In the first week of January, there was something different about the top four most popular podcasts in the Apple Store. Normally devoted to politics, world events, and true crime, the field was dominated by … God. Or three podcasts about faith, to be precise (the fourth spot was reserved for crime).
When you think about New Year’s resolutions, most folks think about resetting their weight after a gluttonous holiday season. Gyms are always full in early January and people flock to healthier cooking blogs; but then, typically, those diets and exercise routines are abandoned by February. The cultural phenomenon of Americans becoming diet and weight-obsessed come New Year’s has become cliche.
But quietly, millions of Americans have decided that this New Year, they’re going to make more deliberate and devoted commitments to their faith traditions, whatever they may be. For many of them, that means self-education via podcasts like Bible or Catechism in a Year hosted by Fr. Mike Schmitz.
The producers of the show told Deseret News, “Many people feel inspired at the beginning of the year to add something new and positive to their lives. ‘Reading the whole Bible’ or ‘Praying more regularly’ or ‘Learning more about my religious faith’ are common resolutions we hear from our listening community. When all of those people ‘press play’ on Jan. 1, the excitement is palpable — people love working towards these lifelong dreams alongside such a huge community of fellow listeners.”
One such woman, Michelle Lancaster of Texas, is a listener who says she grew leaps and bounds spiritually last year listening to the Bible in a Year (BIY) podcast, for all 365 days of 2022. She explained, “Until last year, I had never truly read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Each time I began, whether through a Bible study or via an app, I would either give up or skip over parts where I was frustrated because of how difficult it was for me to understand. Until now.”
Lancaster went on, “For me, scripture was confusing and many times I flat out had no clue what was being said, but thanks to Fr. Mike’s reflections, I had so many ah-ha moments! Even during Leviticus!”
But are listeners successfully adding the show into their daily routines in the New Year? Along with dieting and exercise, another New Year’s resolution cliche is abandoning one’s resolutions.
Jonathan Vandy of Chantilly, Virginia, is one of those cliches, having abandoned the Bible in a Year podcast last year. This year, he’s starting it from the beginning. He purchased their Great Adventure Bible and supplemental workbooks to help with his study. He told Deseret News, “[I’m] trying to be more planned and deliberate with it, [by] getting up a half hour early so I can do it at the same time and place while the kids are sleeping.”
That’s exactly the advice producers have for their listeners. They told Deseret News, “The wonderful thing about a podcast is that it keeps moving forward as long as you keep pressing play — listeners who want to make it the whole year really only need to make one commitment, and that’s to press ‘play’ each day! We’ve noticed that many listeners find success if they tie the podcast into an already existing daily routine, like their morning commute or brushing their teeth at night.”
The important thing is to not get discouraged, even if a few days are missed. The producers went on, “in the very common situation that a listener ‘falls behind’ ... Fr. Mike says many times throughout BIY that you are exactly where you’re meant to be. Whether that’s “caught up” or not … each day spent with Scripture or Catechism is a gift, and is a prayerful encounter with God. Countless listeners have written to us with stories about how they are “behind schedule,” but a verse or topic felt like God’s word meant just for them in their particular life situation. God is faithful, and He will speak through Scripture and Catechism whether a listener is ‘on schedule’ with the podcast, or not.”
Podcasts aren’t the only way Americans are trying to be more in touch with their faith in the New Year. It’s also critically important to become part of a faith community, because faith isn’t meant to be exercised alone in one’s car, via the speaker system.
Spencer Slavin of San Antonio, Texas, recognized that, and explained to Deseret News, “Due to the cultural changes we are all experiencing, I’ve realized that religion is more important than ever. I want my kids to grow up knowing God and the lessons we learn from the Bible.” As part of that realization, Slavin resolved to attend in-person services every week when possible, to join a Bible study group with his wife, and be baptized along with his wife “to signify our journey with Christ together.”
Traditionally, Americans resolve to improve their physical health in the New Year, but for many Americans, it’s their spiritual and emotional health taking precedence this year. They have resolved to learn, grow and connect with their faith traditions, whatever they may be. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, the data shows that every demographic in American society has disconnected more from faith than before. But hopefully in 2023, there will be a return to God and the pews.