Nuns and nones

Miss Mooney and Miss Simpkin were junior high teachers at Jay Stream Junior High. Miss Mooney taught math. Miss Simpkin taught English and oversaw the yearbook. Both taught me. Both were also nuns, teaching in public school.

Three decades later, I worked at the University of Saint Francis. My boss was a nun, a sister, as was her boss. Two sisters reported to me.

My experiences with nuns have been experiences with people who became mentors and friends, who showed humanity and service. They are people who ask the same questions we all do: why am I here, where am I going, what’s worth doing in the meantime.

I started thinking about nuns this week when I read about “the nones,” the people identified in the Pew Research Center Study that came out this week. According to the headlines, 1 in 5 Americans choose “none” on a survey about which religion they identify as their own.

As I read the report, I realized that just like I have nun friends, I have none friends. And some of them are you.

As I read the reports about the report, I grew concerned about how often they talked about what this means for “us in the church” or for “us as a society” or for “them as a group outside the church.” Those comments felt like the beginnings of strategies to “reach them”. And because we’ve talked, I realize that sometimes marking “none” isn’t as much about ‘I’m not anything’, it’s more often “I got frustrated in the church I grew up in” or “I don’t fit with those structures.”

My friends the nuns were so much identified with a religion that they dressed like it. My friends the nones are often concerned with people who merely dress like it.

I think they agree.

3 thoughts on “Nuns and nones

    1. Jon Swanson

      Serious? Sweet.

      Twenty-five years ago, I might have made that connection. I was reading several of the documents from Vatican II for a research project I was doing. I was more aware of that Council, from a theological perspective, than most of the people I knew. It was intended, said John XXIII, to open the windows of the church and let the fresh wind of the Spirit blow through. And the shift to vernacular instead of Latin, and several other “user-friendly” changes were intended to help that breeze.

      But this research study shows declines in “nones” among Catholics as well as Protestants. Although anyone who has seen my office cannot claim that organized religion is organized, *organizational* religion often makes it hard to sort through what matters and what doesn’t, what is about following Jesus and what is about following Jon, what is about living out the Gospel and what is about living out what looks like it might make me look good.


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