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Thursday, October 18, 2018

The surprising alliance between nuns and religious ‘Nones’

How Millennials and women religious are revitalizing the church.

The Nuns & Nones origin story is almost disappointingly practical. In 2016 Santa Fe-based minister Wayne Muller visited retreat centers of women religious in the Midwest shortly after he led a retreat for 25 Millennials involved in social justice work—a growing group of young adults who considered themselves spiritually oriented but not affiliated with a specific religion (aka “Nones”). 

One of the women religious told Muller that their site was most likely doomed to be torn down, the land sold. “I thought about the people I had just been with and said, ‘There’s somebody you should talk to before you do that,’ ” Muller says. 

Muller consulted with Adam Horowitz, a Philadelphia-based activist he met at a Millennial-focused interfaith project at Harvard Divinity School. “Let’s bring them together—let’s see what happens,” Horowitz remembers Muller suggesting. 

In late 2016 a group of women religious and religiously unaffiliated Millennials met at Harvard Divinity School to explore the concept of the two groups regularly meeting, working, and perhaps one day cohabitating in the spirit of service and community.

Other investigative meetings around the country followed, and now Nuns & Nones convene regularly in the Bay Area; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Philadelphia; St. Louis; and other parts of North America, with field trips to one another’s homes and work spaces, weekend retreats, and video-conference discussions of shared readings.

From an unlikely pairing—Muller is a minister in the United Church of Christ and Horowitz, who is Jewish, professes to have never met a sister until “two years ago”—sprang a connection between women religious and religiously unaffiliated Millennials that surprised everyone involved. “Both sides fell in love,” says Horowitz. “There was this sense of seeing and being seen. From there, everyone asked ‘How can I meet the nuns near me?’ ”

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