I wasn't able to attend in person, but I was able to participate through the Livestream video of the plenary sessions which were uploaded to the internet. http://livestream.com/accounts/6379109
Here follows a rough transcript of that Plenary Part 3 and then my own response to it. Why bother? Not everyone likes getting their information via video, and going through the process of taking notes and typing them up enables the message to get internalized more and shared with others, and it also forces me to go looking for the background information and links to round things out. And there's no guarantee how long the Livestream option will be available for either.
This session could have been entitled 'Stewardship'
It was introduced by Fr Mallon with the quip; 'If you want to get Catholics to shut up, begin the Sign of the Cross. It works every time.' #DR16 was the No.1 trend on Twitter in Canada that day.
This was followed by some praise and worship songs with good lyrics:
'Open up the heavens, we want to see You. Lord unveil our eyes. Open up the floodgates, a mighty river, flowing from Your Heart, filling every part of our praise.'
'Our God is able. He will never fail us. He has done great things. In His Name we overcome. He defeated the grave.'
Rick Fersch then spoke to us, currently the Director of Evangelization and Stewardship for the Archdiocese of Seattle and formerly the CEO of Eddie Bauer (a clothing / outdoor adventure supplies store, Kathmandu would be an Australian equivalent)
My three aims for this talk are to
•Fan the flame of renewal
•Inspire and empower transformation in your parishes
•Give you the tools for growth/engagement
The Archdiocese of Seattle has 174 parishes and missions, and somewhere between 750k and 1 million Catholics. It is traditional in Seattle to begin a talk with a prayer and a joke.
St Thomas Merton's Prayer of Abandonment
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and that I think I am following Your will does not mean I am actually doing so.
But I believe the desire to please You does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire in all I am doing.
I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know if I do this You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.
The joke was about how a wife knew that her husband had come home drunk. Plenty of evidence there was, but the most damning were the band-aids on the hallway mirror where he had tried to dress the broken-glass wounds on his rear end.
I am an intense kind of person, and I find that adding a bit of humour and laughter helps. I retired from Eddie Bauer in Jan 2012, after 16 years of Catholic education and a degree in sociology from Villanova Uni in 1971. I've been serving the church full time for the last 13 years. I'm 44 years married with 4 children and 5 grandchildren.
Is it just me? Peculiarities in the Church
•The concept that organizational charts, reviews and job descriptions are not inseparably linked (and not done either!)
•The concept that there is no need for timely decision making ; tomorrow, even next year, that will be fine enough
•Is the Church the earthly home for passive-aggressive individuals? (met with lots of laughing and nodding)
•Although it seems to have 'always been done this way', is it possible that another way may work better?
•Do you still get weird looks when you question something that doesn't make sense (or worse…silence?)?
•How about the concept of succession planning? All right…now I've pushed the envelope too far!
We all know that these are temporal issues. So don’t let them mask, overpower or sabotage the ministry to which you have been called.
What is my ministry?
On December 7, 2000 I had a serious stroke, which put me in Intensive Care at the hospital. I was surrounded by my wife Patti and the 4 kids, but I could not move, I could not talk, and yet I was totally aware of what was going on. Patti told me, 'You have to live, you have to hold our first grandchild.' The priest showed up to anoint me. That was the turning point, the miracle that saved me. Through it all I knew that I had to listen to God, and that He had a 'Step 2' for me. I did indeed hold our first grandchild, 2 years after the stroke.
God's life game plan for Richard T Fersch
1988 Eddie Bauer. What a great place to work, it was on fire, and I loved working there. We saw lots of growth, and I learned a lot about customer service and hospitality. We were ranked in the top 40 companies to work for.
1996 United Way. This was my way to give back to the community. I joined the board and learned how to ask for money – and discovered that I'm good at it.
2000 Sacrament of the Sick
2002 Archbishop Brunett of Seattle. He called me.
What can the Church learn from business?
Healthy things grow. Unhealthy things don't.
Between 1988 and 2002, Eddie Bauer's measures of success (sales etc) grew between 10 and 100 times.
While we measure sales, it is an outcome and not a cause. Only a cause is actionable.
The solution is to focus on the cause – usually a bad/unwanted product, maybe the weather (which usually masks the real cause, and we really shouldn't empower something we don't control.)
Identifying a cause allows you to acknowledge it, to accept responsibility, to identify a specific action plan, to execute a solution, and then to measure it again.
Let's look at the figures for the Church in Western Washington 2003-2016
Households 2013 131k; 2016 145k
Mass Attendance 2013 179k; 2016 145k
Income on plate 2013 72m; 2016 94.5m
Is it the case that we have less people giving more?
The sacraments are being received by less people.
These three things are the traditional ways of measuring the health of a parish.
Registered households (those who sign up)
Mass attendance (those who show up)
Ordinary income (those who cough up)
All three are outcomes, they are not causes.
Therefore they are not actionable.
What is the cause? Why is that the case?
Gallup's concept of engagement.
Gallup would propose the cause for a lack of healthy growth in Church is a lack of member engagement – a lack of commitment to community – a lack of a sense of belonging.
(Ed. Here's the link to the Gallup Member Engagement Survey : http://shop.gallup.com/faith/gallup-member-engagement-survey.html )
From Chris Stefanick's 'Real Life Catholic' http://reallifecatholic.com/
'The unchurched person usually doesn't feel welcome at church. It is up to us to help him or her lower their defenses so the Word of God can pierce their heart. If we provide a boring and unwelcome weekend experience, the unchurched believe the church has nothing relevant to say to them. Worst – they come to believe God is irrelevant.'
Engagement is how a parishioner feels about their parish.
•Engaged parishioners have a deep and strong emotional connection to their parish and are more fully involved in all aspects of the mission of the church.
•There is a direct correlation between engagement and an increase in the defined outcomes of a parish's spiritual health (inviting, serving, giving, life satisfaction).
•Research reveals that spiritual commitment is an ultimate result of active engagement – leading us to a new paradigm : Belonging leads to Believing.
'People will forget what you said and did – but people will never forget how you made them feel' Maya Angelou
The use of prayer partners at St Benedict's is building member engagement. I was very happy to hear when I asked someone 'Are we sitting in your pew?' to receive the answer 'We don't own pews at St Benedict's'. Think about how we treat people on Christmas Eve. It is more like, 'Where have you been for the last 51 weeks? I've earned the right to sit here, you haven't'. This is where we really need to be hospitable, and not just think we are.
In the church there is a critical need for measurement to assess our current 'status' and thus create workable and measurable action plans.
What is needed is a new approach – an approach leading to this new paradigm. An approach that is sustainable, scalable and transferable.
If you were asked how you parish is doing on hospitality, from 0 to 10, how would you know what to answer? If you can't measure it, then how can you manage it?
Engagement is not an end in itself. Rather it is a way to purify the 'soil', enabling a healthy church to bear fruit, the fruit of disciples ready for mission.
Increasing engagement is not the end – it is a means to help achieve the end.
Increasing engagement among parishioners is the KEY to increasing the spiritual health of the parish!
The Archdiocese of Seattle launched an initiative 8 years ago called ' Engagement – Empowering Stewardship as a Way of Life'. It has three parts: Leadership, Member Engagement and Strengths.
This grew out of an earlier initiative by Archbishop Murphy called 'Stewardship' which ran from 1992-2002. There were booklets, ministry fairs, etc. The take up rate was the same as similar programs you have done in your own dioceses, a lot of effort for not a lot of result.
In 2009 we began a new plan.
We could see that the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) was doing good stuff with its 'Good Leaders, Good Shepherds' and 'Tending the Talents' programs; and that Gallup was doing good stuff with the ME25, Q12, and Clifton Strengths Finder; but they weren't using the same language.
So we asked them to work together, and very generously they agreed, and a pilot program was prepared.
Bear in mind that our solution may not be your solution for your situation, and that we are happy to share details of what works for us in the hopes that you may find what will work for you.
Sower : Leadership and developing leaders
CLI provides leadership training for parish priests, and 'Tending the Talents' training for parish staff.
We noticed a lack of training for our priests in leadership. How can we get stuff done without leadership to make it happen? Good Leaders, Good Shepherds is a 2 year program. When the priest graduates we send his parish staff on the Tending the Talents program. It is practical, it works, and everyone is thrilled with the results.
Seed : Strengths and Talents
How well do we understand our hearts? How well do we know our gifts?
Once you accept the gifts you have, the gifts that only you have, a whole new responsibility t own, embrace and use those gifts emerges. Using them is the way we give our gifts back to God. Gallup has proved empirically just how unique we all are with our strengths. Some 4000-5000 people in the Archdiocese have gone through the StrengthsFinder process. What we need to do now is convert those talents and strengths into ministry, and give purpose to them. At the moment we are working on launching the Catholic Strengths Institute to help everyone connect their strengths with ministry pathways.
(Ed. The website for this still seems to be in pre-production mode : so keep an eye on it for a change in status : http://catholicstrengthsinstitute.tryradiuswebtools.com/ )
Seed : discovering talent
If we are to cultivate and share our unique gifts of talents we must first understand and embrace these gifts. When we do, we receive a 'personal awakening' of who we are called to be. The results are:
•Deeper understanding and respect of self
•Deeper understanding and respect of others
•Deeper relationship with God
A quote from St Catherine of Siena (Dialog 7)
God said to me, 'I could well have made human beings in such a way that they each had everything; but I preferred to give different gifts to different people, so that they would need each other.'
Soil : Member Engagement
We have been using member engagement surveys with great results. Some parishes have done the surveys multiple times. You cannot measure if you are not measuring.
'Therefore go and make disciples of all nations'
The ultimate goal of parishes is to develop Disciples of Christ – Catholics who are fully spiritually committed to the mission of the Church. This is the ultimate result of increasing engagement among parishioners.
In the hands of a leader committed to using the ME25 to its fullest extent, the ME25 becomes a powerful tool for helping to move your parish from maintenance to mission.
Please engrave this definition of insanity in your brain :
insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
So what next?
•Will it be business as usual when you go home after the conference?
•Will you grasp and embrace a part of the new paradigm you were seeking when you signed up for this conference?
Be not afraid. Be bold. There are resources to help you on this journey. Take a step. Make a difference. The choice is yours.
Don't be overwhelmed. Remember the story of the boy finding an elderly man along the beach throwing starfish back into the sea. The boy questioned the pointlessness of it all, but the elderly man replied, 'I might not fix it all, but I certainly made a difference to the life of this star fish.'
Fr Mallon then introduced Gemma to us, after agreeing that 'Making a difference is what it is all about'.
5 years ago Gemma would come to the occasional Sunday Mass, sit in the pew, and think about other stuff. At that time a relationship with God was not at the centre of her life. The same was true for her mum and dad, sister, brother and grandfather. Spiritually her dad was the least likely to go to church. Her grandfather had struggles with alcohol addiction. One Sunday Gemma got shocked out of her daydreams by seeing the priest pull out an iPhone. It awoke her curiosity. She told her family, 'you have to meet this guy, he's crazy' (it was Fr Mallon, of course). He was talking about Alpha.
Her Mum wanted grandfather to go and do Alpha. During the prayer session at Alpha, grandfather had an amazing encounter with Jesus, experiencing within himself the light vs dark battle. After that prayer session he felt cleansed, saved, and his desire to drink was gone. The family was stunned at the change, especially mum and dad. So we went to Friday night family Alpha, the kids had their sessions upstairs and the adults downstairs. The sense of community and belonging we experienced there kept us coming back. We all encountered God in our own way. My sister and I felt called to do church activities, like bible studies and youth groups. My mum started praying every morning. My dad is now with us in the pews every week, as is my brother. My mum and I did the trip to HTB and encountered the Holy Spirit in a real and personal way, along with 5000 other people.
Then we moved to Toronto. On our final weekend the parish prayed over us and commissioned us to go out and use this chance to bring what we had experienced to Toronto. In Toronto we joined a parish and started a daytime and youth Alpha, but we encountered difficulties. The priest was not strongly supporting us, and was not involved. We realized we could not take it much further. So we switched parishes and found a priest who was hungry for something to help his parish. He got on board, promoted it, became a table leader, and invited his friends.
Gemma, aged 17, is now the Alpha coordinator in that parish, organizing the food, tables and dealing with the emails. Her sister had her big turning point at a Steubenville conference. In many ways Alpha is being run a bit like a family business. 'Jesus has made a huge difference to our family life. He has given us purpose, and a happiness in service. It is good to know that as a teenage I can be in the world but not of it.
This part of the session closed with prayer for Gemma and her family.
My own response
That's a lot to take in, isn't it?! But it is the pathway forwards, and we need to tell people about it.
Why are Catholics so passive-aggressive? Maybe because the direct route to getting things done so often gets blocked and we've had to become experts at getting things done by back channels.
It is encouraging to see that if God wants you somewhere, that He has the ways and means to get you there, like he did with getting Rick out of Eddie Bauer and into service for Him with the Archdiocese of Seattle.
The contrast between the high rates of growth for Eddie Bauer and the stagnant/almost recessive growth for the Archdiocese was staggering. The former is the kind of growth and health God would like to see in our parishes. To keep on the same path that got us to this lack of health, that's no longer an option.
It is going to take a while to process the implications of belonging leading to believing. We are so used to expecting things to be the other way round. It means that we have to be consciously choosing to draw people into our community of faith. It means that we need independent assessment on how welcoming our parishes actually are, maybe something similar to the mystery shoppers that retailers use.
Thinking about engagement…A few months back our parish had its first episcopal visitation in its history, and there was a meeting with parishioners and the bishop. He asked those present to name what it was about the parish that draws you here. Many of the answers hinged on engagement parishioners had with the community of faith present in the parish, and named the people who drew them into involvement (often a parish priest or a switched-on parishioner who called them into some kind of service or ministry). Those present at the meeting were already engaged, otherwise they would not have given up their time to be there. The ability of some gifted individuals to notice potential talent, and to give people gentle nudges in the right direction for using that potential talent, is what is needed. If we can locate those gifted individuals and help them harness and intentionally use those gifts in God's service, that would be a big step forward to increasing engagement in the parish. People with StrengthsFinder combinations of Developer and Individualization are most likely to be those gifted individuals.
I went investigating Clifton StrengthsFinder after an intriguing mention or two of it in Divine Renovation. There are 2 ways to do the StrengthsFinder questionnaire. Do it online for $15 US or around $20 AUS through this link, it is supposed to give you access to an e-book, but the process is long and convoluted. A better way is to get the book with the access code in the back, the Catholic Edition of 'Living Your Strengths' Because postage costs are a nightmare, order more than one copy – you are going to want others to do it too. If you have the money, get friends together and buy a full starter kit, which comes with workbooks and a seven session discovery process.
My top 5 signature themes are Intellection, Input, Connectedness, Deliberative and Learner. That meshes perfectly with my top 3 transferable skills, problem solving, using my brain and research. I'm still searching for a way to leverage those strengths to serve the mission of the Church as part of a team, and suspect that until enough leaders find value in StrengthsFinder and learn to build balanced teams I'll still be a square peg in a round hole and getting lots of those weird looks and silences that Rick spoke about.
I'm really interested in the work Rick is doing in matching combinations of strengths to ministry opportunities. (See, it's a problem that needs solving! :) The Living Your Strengths has lists of ideas for how to use your strengths in Christian service, but they only go so far. But it should be possible to work out which combinations of strengths are suited for particular ministries. For example, someone high in empathy and harmony is the perfect fit for a hospital chaplaincy role or pastoral care work with the sick.
Gemma's story needs to be shared widely. It breaks my heart that so often us lowly parishioners try and get something good going, and it falls flat because there is no active support from the parish leadership. Passive support, which is basically permission to run with something and rooms to do it in, just isn't enough and frequently it is a recipe for failure. Waiting to see if something is going to be a success before getting behind it might feel like the prudent thing to do, but it sure doesn't feel like the loving thing to do from the perspective of those who are risking it all. However if people see that the parish priest is giving something his full support, they do get behind it. It feels like they all watch him to see what he thinks before joining in or not. So much stands or falls depending on the parish priest, no wonder Our Lady is so insistent in her messages that we must pray for our priests.
Those Catholic Leadership Institute courses look like they are worth investigating. I hope they start getting students from my side of the globe soon. I really like that it there's some for parish priests and some for parish staff.
The National Church Life Survey is probably the Australian equivalent to the ME25. It certainly asks the engagement questions. It would be worthwhile comparing them properly.