August 4, 2017 by Alex Johannigman
Earlier this week, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced that the Knights of Columbus were going to abandon their ceremonial caps and capes and take on a new style.
“This fraternal year, we make another historic change. The Board of Directors has decided that the time is right for a modernization of the Fourth Degree uniform,” Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson announced on Tuesday at the Knights’ 135th annual international convention in St. Louis, Mo.
I’ll just get this out here up front, I am not a fan of the change, and judging from the feedback I’ve seen on social media (and particularly from some of the KoC facebook pages that I’m a part of) I’m not the only one. As a fourth degree knight who has proudly worn the regalia on numerous occasions over the past five years (and spent nearly $500 to purchase all of the pieces), I have always been a fan of how different the ceremonial dress is from everything else that is worn in our modern era. There was something exciting about donning the chapeau, slipping on the white gloves, and carrying my sword.
But that was never what drew me to the Knights. I was drawn to the Knights because of the charitable work that they do at every level from the local community to international aid and relief work, the sense of fraternity and brotherhood that I saw between knights at my parish, and the desire to learn more about being a Catholic man and father from older knights who were wiser than I was. Getting to wear distinctive regalia at special masses and parades a few times a year (and to cook blueberry pancakes once a month for my fellow parishioners) were just a couple of the extra perks.
What I find interesting, and possibly even a little exciting, about the announcement was the statement from the KoC leadership about the need to modernize to appeal to the younger generations within the Church. While I think they’ve sought a solution from entirely the wrong angle, I couldn’t agree more with their assessment.
Since joining the Knights over 5 years ago, I’ve become increasingly frustrated at our inability to make ourselves more appealing to my millennial peers. I think this is largely because those in leadership positions within the Knights don’t really know much about how to do it.
If the new regalia design is any indication, it seems like the Boomers that currently hold many of the leadership positions within the Knights of Columbus believe that all they need to do to appeal to men in their 20s and 30s is think about what they wanted when they were our age. This mindset shows a complete lack of understanding about the true differences between Boomers and Millennials. As a millennial Knight who wants to see the order continue to grow and thrive well beyond my lifetime, here are three of my suggestions if the Knights want to appeal to younger men in a way that is much more effective than a hideous regalia change.
1. Master Technology and the Internet
One of the most frustrating things about my experience with the Knights is how hard it is to get information of any kind online. The internet is the first place millennials turn to communicate, check their calendars, make plans, and gather information, yet it seems like the Knights view an online presence as simply an afterthought. Finding information about when my council or assembly is doing something next, paying my annual dues, and accessing details about my insurance policies can all be easily available online, but they either aren’t or are very difficult to access in most situations.
The internet is a powerful tool for communication, but if the Knights don’t use it to communicate in a more effective manner, more young knights are going to feel left out in the dark when they can’t find the information they’re looking for where they expect to be able to find it.
2. Adapt to the reality that Knights are in different stages in life
Currently, almost everything about the Knights is designed to best suit men who are married, have children, and have settled down into a parish. In reality, most younger men don’t fit any of those categories. Shortly after joining I received emails asking me to “Bring your wife to our moms appreciation breakfast” and “Bring your kids to our family picnic.” Even at business meetings I was often asked about my wife and kids by people who were totally unaware that I didn’t have either yet. Even though I really enjoyed many aspects of being a Knight, those sorts of conversations made me feel like this wasn’t a group for people like me.
Millennials also move around a lot. We’re less likely to stay in the same city for our entire lives than other generations may have been. In fact, since joining the Knights I’ve moved to a different state twice and switched parishes three times. Every move required me to complete a council transfer process that was anything but smooth. Even after completing necessary paperwork, it often took months or longer to get added to an email list for my new council, I’d receive invoices for dues from both my old and new councils, and mail would frequently get sent to an old address. The last time I checked, my online profile still showed that I was a member of a council I left 4 years ago and there was no way to change that on the KoC website. The Knights would do well to adopt a better process for handling Knights moving to new areas so they can keep them engaged, especially since moving is so common among younger people.
3. Get to know what the faith means to young men
The Church has changed over the past few decades. Fewer people identify with a religion than in the past, but those who are staying in the Catholic Church (and especially those who are joining from the outside) love the Church’s rich tradition. This isn’t a generation that wants the Church to “get with the times.” It seems like this recent move to “modernize” the Knights of Columbus shows that the leadership doesn’t really understand that and instead assumes that the Catholics in their 20’s today are just like the Catholics who were in their 20’s fifty years ago.
We were told that this decision was made by the Board of Directors, but I wonder if they would have reached the same conclusion if more voices had been present. I don’t think most knights were even aware that a new regalia design was being considered (or was a even a possibility) until it had been finalized. There certainly weren’t any young voices in the conversation.
One of the best ways to fix this is to spend more time getting to know the younger members of our councils, and better yet, bring more young Knights into leadership positions and the conversations that are shaping the future of the order as soon as possible. After all, the future of the Knights of Columbus, as well its present, belong to us too.