Religious life and religion journalism today

I was filling out my calendar earlier this summer when it dawned on me just how crazy August was going to be for me. Between the Giving Voice national gathering in Kansas at the start of the month, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in Houston in the middle of the month and the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Philadelphia at the end of the month, it appeared I’d barely be in the office at all. And, so far, that’s pretty much been the case.

But August has been crazy in other, less obvious but related ways.

At the Giving Voice gathering, everyone was talking about young people, the future and the frontiers awaiting religious life. I mean, that’s what you’d expect at a meeting for younger sisters, right? But then I got to Houston for the LCWR assembly the following week and former LCWR executive director, St. Joseph Sr. Janet Mock, used her keynote to stress the need for older sisters to move gracefully into passivity.

For me, going from Giving Voice to LCWR was kind of like intellectual whiplash, and I wondered what younger sisters at LCWR were thinking. Luckily for me, I was able to chat briefly with Global Sisters Report columnist, St. Joseph of Peace Sr. Susan Francois, who had also been at both meetings.

To Francois, the important thing to take away from Mock’s keynote was the need for older sisters to make way for younger sisters in ministry and leadership. In fact, Francois saw Mock’s keynote as a continuation of the Giving Voice themes and went so far as to tell me, “Sometimes you hear something everywhere, and you know you’re supposed to pay attention to it.”

Once she said that, it made sense. As a young journalist — especially a young religion journalist — I often find myself in a similar space, having to defend my tenacious belief in an institution many people think is dying. And that can be hard to do when publications nationwide are closing or significantly decreasing the size of their staffs, usually laying off religion writers first.

But we youths are an optimistic (albeit sometimes cynical) bunch. Maybe it’s sheer arrogance that leads us to believe that our chosen paths will continue to be available to us despite all empirical evidence to the contrary. Or maybe it’s a sense that even if the outward appearance of things change, the fundamental values can remain the same. Is journalism on the Internet really any different than journalism in a physical newspaper? Other than the fact that, online, I can do things like this, does the content of what I write really change? Similarly, if religious life is smaller, more multicultural and more intercongregational, do the charisms and ministries really change?

Obviously, I don’t believe so. Believe me, under no circumstance would I have borrowed $100,000 for journalism and theology degrees if I didn’t think this religion reporting thing had a future in some form or another. Still, I recognize that many of us young people are living in a transitional time — and that with transition comes inherent tension. Case in point: I’ll spend the next week celebrating religion journalism while some of the very same people who’ll get reporting awards recently lost their jobs.  

It’ll be crazy, but this whole month has been crazy, so I should be ready.  

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is Global Sisters Report staff writer, based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie]