The first keynote address of the day was given by Dr Susan Timoney from Washington. You can find some of her thoughts on her blog, and via Twitter, and can learn more about her background on LinkedIn.
Dr Susan Timoney is the Secretary for the Secretariat of Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington in the United States. In this capacity Dr Timoney is responsible for coordinating and implementations archdiocesan-wide evangelisation initiatives.
Her keynote address was entitled, 'The missionary mandate of the Parish: Christian life embedded in our neighbourhoods'
NB. These notes are rough, they do not contain everything she said, and will lack her particular emphases.
Good morning. I'm delighted to be here. I have a passion for helping people discover that what they hunger for most can be found in parishes and in relationship with Christ. I love parish life. I work with parishes to increase their capacity to evangelise.
verything depends on love, and we learn to give and receive love in the family and in the spiritual home that is the parish.
My dad had a life-long relationship with his parish, retaining it even after his parish merged with another one. He never lived more than 6 kms from the parish centre. He would say, 'As Iong as I can be buried from there – I will be OK.' Having lived on 4 continents, my life has been very different but I have always felt at home in the church wherever I have been due to the Eucharist and to the connectedness the Eucharist gives us to the universal church and everyone in it.
Parish is not principally a structure, but a family on fire with the Holy Spirit.
By nature a parish is situated in a neighbourhood and local. It is the home of 'resident aliens': members of a pilgrim Church. The mission of a parish is found living in the midst of its sons and daughters embedded in the life of a community. Embedded in the sense of how journalists were embedded with troops during the Afghanistan war.
The parish is a stable point of reference in the daily life of the Church's believers.
As parishes we need to be seen as contributing to the larger neighbourhood, and for that to happen attitudinal change is needed. Do we contribute to civic life or are we 'for members only'?
If as parishes we are inviting and welcoming we will become a bridge of encounter with the living Christ for others, and helping them deepen that encounter through worship, service, sacraments and education.
When some of our meeting room space is made available for public use by support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, it can open doors for outsiders to encounter the life of the parish and through that to offer them the possibility of an encounter with the risen Christ. But it has to be done well and intentionally.
What could draw people back to our parishes?
A parish is called to serve the whole of the neighbourhood. St John XXIII had a vision for parish to be like the village fountain to which all would have recourse in their thirst. Before the days of running water in our homes, everyone would go to the fountain to get water and exchange community news. All of us thirst for God. Jesus is the One who quenches that thirst and we find Him in our Christian spiritual life.
We live in a world of increasing secularisation. As a society we have to choose whether to push God further to the margins or whether we will rediscover the wonder of God.
Many of the people around us have never been presented with the Gospel. So because they have less 'baggage' many of them have an unusual openness. We need to remember that those not with us are not necessarily against us.
There are three groups we need to reach
•Those who don't know Him at all
•Those who have been hurt by the Church or alienated from the Church
•Those who are active but don't see themselves as evangelisers
Each year the Archdiocese of Washington runs two big initiatives. For Christmas, targeting the first group is Find the Perfect Gift. It is an invitation to get to know more about Jesus Christ in the lead up to Christmas, with reflections and news about Advent events and Christmas Mass times. For Lent, targeting the second group is The Light is On for You. It is an invitation to return to the sacrament of Penance, with guides and information and especially confessionals open and ready on all the Wednesday nights during Lent.
We need to make things available for ALL to come and see.
What is the Gospel asking your parish to do now, and who to reach out to?
We have a program for those who say 'I want to find out more about the Catholic Church'.
Are we better at keeping our parishes running than at going out to evangelise? Jesus was always on the move, seeking out each and every person. As the Gospel of Mark shows us, He was always going out and saying, 'come and see', 'come and stay'.
When Mass ends we are told 'Go forth', 'Go and announce the Good News'. That is the task of the laity, to embed the life of the parish in our communities. We are the eyes, hands and feet of Jesus to those at home; in our jobs and in all the places we go.
We have to become more intentional about inviting people. Go. Invite. Welcome. That's the plan.
Give people an opening to ask questions and get engaged in conversation. It can go like this: A neighbour of mine walks his dog. We stopped to chat.
He said, 'What do you do?'
'I work for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington'.
'Oh, so you work for the Catholic church.'
'Do you believe? Do you believe all of it?'
'Yes, it has the best answers to the most important questions.'
That was 9 years ago. Now he begins a conversation with me about anything Catholic that has been in the news.
We need to engage the missionary consciousness that was given to us all in baptism. We also need to assess the capacity of our parishes for evangelisation. How many in our parishes have been evangelised? How many are evangelisers?
We can go out, because He has loved us first.
By and large we seem to take our cues from the secret service; we are present, silent and watchful.
Institutions don't help the encounter with Jesus Christ to happen, but the people who work in them do.
• Are co-responsible for the mission, and alive to the opportunities that present themselves around the kitchen table, at BBQs, and while getting ready for Mass.
• Are heralds of hope. When Benedict XVI visited America there were banners around the place with the message, 'People with hope live differently'. Recently I was talking with a young lady at one of our RCIA classes and I asked her why she came. 'I never have serious conversations with my friends. They are interested in the latest movie and pedicure etc. I am desperate for serious conversation about things that matter.'
• Share the Good News. We are always missionary disciples. If you look at the people who encountered Jesus in the Gospels, they in turn evangelised others.
Assess the quality of welcome.
Do the demographics in your parish reflect the face of the neighbourhood. Is it the same mix of people you see in the grocery store or not? Does the vestibule of your church have a 'welcome' vibe for any newcomer at your front door? Does it contain information helpful for a newcomer? How much do you speak in acronyms, eg 'YAM is having a sausage sizzle after the 6pm Mass next week.' Could you guess that YAM stood for Young Adult Ministry? Could a newcomer guess that that?
It matters how our communications with those on the fringe are framed. Is it like, 'We look forward to learning with you and your child in the sacramental preparation program'? Or is it like, 'You need to do X, Y and Z to get enrolled in the sacramental preparation program by ddmmmyyyy.'?
Is there a link between your parish and the community? Do you have brochures about your parish available in local cafes? Are some of your parish events being promoted through community email 'What's On' style lists? Do you have 'Come and join us for Christmas Mass' messages in the local newspaper?
Pope Francis believes that our parishes have great flexibility. “The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.”Evangelii Gaudium 28
Parishes are flexible and adaptive because they can respond to needs that are local. Effective responses require pastoral planning. A parish that is missionary knows that it is the work of every one and every ministry. To assess the calibre of a parish's ministries, compare them with what a secular organisation (eg Red Cross) achieves.
If your parish is located in a poor neighbourhood, then it is likely to have a food program. But thought should be given to how the parish could help those coming to the food program to encounter Jesus. Maybe one way is having the church doors open, and soft background music.
If your parish has a powerful preacher, record some of them onto DVDs and have them available as 'take home' material. At the same time have some 'How to learn more' material available too.
We take our 8th graders on a retreat day. We ask them what they want as part of that retreat day, and the top answer is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Washington Archdiocese has developed an 'Indicators of Vitality' self-assessment tool for parishes. It consists of 12 questions covering each of the areas of Worship, Education, Community, Service, and Administration. The 24 page PDF guide to the Indicators of Vitality tool is here and is in both English and Spanish.
Worship: With regard to worship, how is your Mass schedule meeting the needs of your neighbours? We are finding that Sunday evening Masses are getting more popular.
Education: Adult education needs to have a variety of opportunities and schedules. We found that a lot of men still wake up as early on Saturday mornings as they do for the weekday commute to work. So we offered a bible study group for men at 5.30am on a Saturday morning followed by 7am Mass and 150 men made the commitment.
These days it seems like people are busier, and lifestyles have changed. It is not that they don't have a desire for the things of God, it is just that it is seen as a luxury.
Community: How are we building fellowship and communion?
Service: These are our works of mercy. Who are the most vulnerable in our community? And how are we meeting their needs? Who is on the periphery of your community? The answers will be different for each parish. It might be those suffering as a result of domestic violence, it might be young adults, it might be migrants.
Administration: The goal is the best match of resources for ministry. Dare to change the conversation, and commit to praying and discerning where the Lord is drawing our parish community.
Moving a parish from maintenance to mission is not a short term goal. No one program will do it for you. Generally it takes around 100 years for a Council to bear fruit in the life of the Church. Because of Vatican II the 21st Century church is better fitted for preaching the Gospel to the people of the 21st century.
Evangelii Gaudium 28
The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”. This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented.
Participants at the Conference were then asked to reflect and talk about the following two questions:
Q. What is the greatest challenge for evangelisation in your neighbourhood?
Q. What tools or encouragement might you take from Dr Timoney's presentation to respond to that challenge?
For our area it would be the commuters who regularly spend more than 3 hours a day travelling between home and work. It means that weekday and weeknight events in the parish are largely unattainable to them, and for a sacrifice of weekend time to be considered the offerings have to be truly excellent and not the mediocre 'going through the motions' stuff that seems to be the norm. To get them back, nothing short of excellence will do.
While I am convinced that there need to be better communication channels and personal encounter experiences between the parish and the community, I am not convinced that having non-parish groups meeting in parish premises is the way to go. That's even if it is done intentionally and with a plan for engagement with the non-parish group. With Rebuilt and Divine Renovation ringing in my ears, I know that such plans tend to be fruitless in bringing people to Jesus. Surely even the most basic bible study group or catechist meeting is going to be doing a better job at making disciples than a secular support group. Parish resources are too few to squander in the hopes that someone coming to a secular event might pop in and pray inside the church.
I also have Pope Francis ringing in my ears saying that the Church cannot and must not become an NGO (Non-Government Organisation). Our works of mercy must be full of the tenderness that is lacking in secular charities and must be offering encounters with Jesus as well as assisting those in need. How easy it is for a work of mercy to start the right way, and over time to become more bureaucratic and secular! Seeking government grants to assist with the funding tends to be the start of the slippery slope. The Saints got around the funding needs of their works of mercy through intense prayer and dependence on Divine Providence.
Getting the balance right between works of mercy and outreach, and between evangelisation and formation/catechesis is the challenge. They are more of those 'both/and' things that are so typically Catholic: 'faith and works', 'virgin and mother', 'human and divine', 'scripture and tradition'.
That said, the need to be more visible and accessible to the neighbourhood is crucial. Staffing information booths at the local agricultural Show, having a contingent at the local dawn Anzac Day services, recruiting a parish team for participation in charitable events (walkathons, Fun Runs) or sporting competitions, are options. As are posters in shop windows for guest speakers or Christmas and Easter Mass times in the local press and online.
I'd like to see something like 'The Light is On for You' initiative happening here, too. Having churches open for prayer and the Sacrament of Penance on Wednesday nights during Lent seems quite do-able, and would be helpful for commuters and shift-workers.
The story of the young woman desperately hungry for conversations about stuff that matters resonated with me. I'd prefer to have conversations at that level all the time, but they tend to be few and far between even in parish life. Our monthly study group on Evangelii Gaudium is one of those few places.
I did go looking on the Washington Archdiocese website for information on a 'I want to find out more about the Catholic Church' program. It sadly wasn't immediately obvious. It wasn't in the FAQ section. You had to go to Education/Adult Faith Formation/Faith Foundations to find it. I had to scroll to the bottom of the Home page to find 'Interested in Becoming Catholic', but that wasn't exactly the question I was asking, and the text on that sub-page didn't provide a link to Faith Foundations.
Could someone visiting your parish or diocesan website be able to find answers to both questions: 'How do I find out more about the Catholic Church?' and 'If I am interested in becoming Catholic, what do I need to do?'
In the next issue will be notes from the keynote speech of Daniel Ang on evangelisation strategies for Australian parishes.