This workshop was led by Lorraine McCarthy, co-ordinator for Alpha in a Catholic Context, and a spiritual director with many years of pastoral associate experience behind her.
You can find her on Facebook and Twitter .
Working out who do we think we are is an important question, because we cannot communicate a clear vision or mission without agreeing about our purpose and identity.
Then we can ask 'Who do people outside the church think we are?'
Lorraine showed us a very good video-clip prepared by the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Any Given Sunday Project about the various reasons people give for not coming to Sunday Mass.
***Hopefully access to the video-clip link will be restored soon www.anygivensundayproject.org
They included: 'I've got to get my life together first'; 'They're hypocrites, who only care about money'; dress code; nervousness; 'I don't believe everything you do'; 'It is only for wimpy girly men'; 'My past is an issue'
We were invited to chat about these reasons, and any others we could come up with.
We have to build a big bridge of trust. Outsiders no longer look favourably upon us as a church.
Before we begin to welcome, we have to break down those barriers.
Trust is not the same as an active personal faith, but it is a step in the right direction.
We were then given three questions to chew on:
•Have you seen evidence of negative attitudes in people on the fringes of your parish?
•How is a bridge of trust built?
•Name one step your parish can take / does take to build bridges of trust in your community.
There is a difference between being a welcoming community and being an inviting community. Building trust has to happen off church property, eg on train trips, down at the footy club.
Who do WE think that we are?
The Church's mission is given in Matthew 28:19-20
Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.'
Making Disciples is the core mission statement of our parish.
Pope Francis encourages us in Evangelii Gaudium 25
I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.
Models of Practical Ecclesiology: The Presumptions that hinder our mission
Parish as Social Club
We might see parish as a place for community building, and for leisure and social activities, but we have to ask whether in doing so we are building Christian community. Socialising and Christian Fellowship are very different. Socialising is getting people of like minds together, and excluding those who are 'a little bit different'. Socialising can tie up facilities and resources. Fellowship leads to people saying, 'look how they love one another'.
Parish as Funeral Home
Funerals are an important part of the provision of pastoral care. People with little or no church affiliation expect a funeral Mass and the use of parish facilities for refreshments afterwards. It takes some 6-8 hours for a priest to prepare for a funeral. If he has an 8am Mass and a 10.30am funeral, he has no time and energy for anything else. Funerals, although necessary, have the potential to cripple the timetable and energy of the priests, staff and people of the parish.
Parish as Museum
We have a fixation on the parish buildings and maintaining things of the past, the outward forms of our faith. 80-90% of parish finances can be spent on maintaining, insuring, heating and cooling buildings. The clustering of parishes that is going on means that some parishes have sets of presbyteries, churches and halls. Some of the funds tied up in buildings could be released for more staff or more modern facilities. Are our buildings meeting the needs of our current parish identity or are we doing the equivalent of marching around with pom poms on our feet like the Greek Presidential Guard – relics from times gone by?
Parish as Bank
When a parish is following a maintenance model, its primary focus is on maintaining the flock. Concurrent with this will be a focus on debt reduction and having money in the bank as a buffer. As a parish's average age of member increases, pressure is on to save now to make it through future times of financial aridity. But Jesus Christ calls us to a kind of 'venture capitalism'. If you are asking members to give of their resources to aid the mission of the Church, then if that money is saved in the bank rather than spent on the primary 'making disciples' mission of the Church –something stinks. Often we play it too safe, too careful. When a strong vision is presented, people will buy-in and donate. Disciples are raised up through relationships not through buildings, and you need the parish staff to enable the relationships.
Parish as a School
For many parishes their main missionary and financial focus is the parish school. It is not unusual to see a nice school adjacent to parish plant (church, office. meeting rooms, presbytery etc) that is in poor repair. Some parishes are contributing $30,000 per annum as well as the labour of parish staff members to keep the local parish primary school open for business. How did we get to this situation when the example Jesus gives in the Gospels is of teaching the adults and blessing the children? Traditionally (at least in living memory) we've been teaching the children and blessing the adults! To follow Jesus our teaching priority should be adults not children.
Parish as a Soup Van
In this model the parish exists to provide services to the parish members and to the community. Such a model risks seeing individuals categorised through the specialised care that they need, and not as people called and gifted to serve God's mission.
Evangelii Gaudium 183
Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it unites “its own commitment to that made in the social field by other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, whether at the level of doctrinal reflection or at the practical level”.
We are called to witness with both our words and our actions.
Evangelii Gaudium 200
Since this Exhortation is addressed to members of the Catholic Church, I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.
We have to do both together, practical care and spiritual care for those in need, especially the poor. But a parish should primarily be where competent apostles are formed and sent out to bring Jesus Christ to the world through acts of love and mercy. At least some of our energy and resources have to be used to form people to use their gifts. The more apostles we send out, the more all that good stuff we are called to do is multiplied.
At this point workshop participants were invited to discuss the following question: Do you see echoes of these models operating in your own mindset or in your parish?
Archbishop Porteous: 'Evangelisation is not an ecclesial marketing campaign. The Church does what she does because Jesus has changed our relationship to everyone.'
Parish as Photocopier
This is a model for evangelising, discipling and missioning. Evangelisation is the work we do to draw people in, just like the photocopier draws in paper. Everything we do has to have the capacity to draw people in. Discipling is what we do in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), in schools, in sacramental preparation. Through the catechesis and sacraments people are transformed in Christ, just like the photocopier prints, copies, fold and staples, our task is to imprint Jesus on hearts and souls through their involvement and formation in the parish. Just like you can't get the ink off the photocopied paper, the transformation is meant to be permanent. Missioning is the sending out of apostles. In a photocopier, the paper that comes out the other end is designed to be a message distributed to many. Likewise, the parish is designed to send forth its members to spread the message about Jesus, the Son of God.
This kind of cycle is how the Church (and parish) works best. A healthy parish looks like this, with all three parts working properly. Are our parishes overheated, jammed or gathering dust?
Who wants change? Yes, everybody does.
Who wants to change? Nobody does.
What are the characteristics of a mission-driven parish?
•It is united in how it understands mission
•It regularly talks about mission
•It has multiple experiences available for those at pre-evangelisation, kerygma and catechesis stages
•There is a clear, simple path for discipleship, which is visible and understandable by everyone.
Stages of trust and curiosity
-are where pre-evangelisation is used
Stages of openness and seeking
-are where the kerygma is presented
Stages of discipleship and apostleship
-are where catechesis is offered
The game plan or discipleship path looks like this:
Invitation, Alpha, Alpha team member, Connect group member, Ministry group member, Discipleship group (to each year learn something) and Worship
All parishioners are expected to participate in the game plan at their level of interest.
The culture of discipleship contains an expectation of growth, where the relationship with Jesus and the faith community is nurtured and sustained.
Let's make Pope Francis' dream in Evangelii Gaudium 27 real:
I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with Himself. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.
This workshop highlighted what the missing link is: trust. By and large parishes are doing better at greeting and welcoming…but that only works if a newcomer has the courage to enter the door of the church. Too often we sit and wait for them to come, and forget that the first word of the Great Commission Matt 28:18-20 is Go as in 'Go, get 'em'.
So the question becomes, how do we get an outsider to go from thinking of church going folk as weird aliens steeped in stupidity and superstition and a danger to children to thinking of us as people just like them finding real help from God in the struggles of life? It is not going to happen through a letterbox drop or an ad in the local newspaper, it has to be living person to living person. Good quality testimonies on YouTube have their part to play, but won't reassure a viewer about the type of person they would meet if they showed up at church. That's where the dog walking lady who lives on the same street and stops and chats has an infinite edge, if she mentions she goes to church and once in a while says, 'hey, would you like to come too?'.
'Building trust has to happen off church property' and by extension where you naturally find lots of people'. That means we need something to precede kerygma opportunities like Alpha. St Paul Street Evangelisation teams are one way of doing this: http://streetevangelization.com/ . Having a table at the local once a month market stalls is another. Renting vacant space in a busy local shopping centre and setting up an area of prayer and rest, with a corner to listen to personal stories and offer intercessory prayer for needs revealed is something else to consider. Entering teams in local fun runs and walkathons for charitable causes is an option, as is getting together contingents for the public celebration of days of national significance (eg. a lone priest at the local dawn service on Anzac Day will make a much bigger impact if there are 30 parishioners with recognisable name badges with him, who mingle and chat with people they don’t know before and after the ceremonies).
The image that keeps coming back to me is of a car with the motor running, and the wheels turning, but not touching the ground. Unless the rubber of the tyres makes contact with the street, the car will go nowhere. Local parishioner to local person conversation that includes content about prayer, faith, Jesus, and the benefits of worship as a united community is what will get the rubber hitting the road...it might take a few times to gain traction…but that's what will get the missing link of trust active again.
I've seen all these models of parish (except the photocopier) in action. Chances are you have as well.
Parish as social club is a tricky one because generally we have to get to know each other first before we are comfortable to talk about what God has done for us, and is doing with us. Having a culture that expects one to lead to the other, and facilitates it; that's the goal to aim for. Beware of the subtle forms of exclusion: locations difficult to get to by public transport, functions with a cover charge that people on a very tight budget could not afford.
Parish as a funeral home is unavoidable, firstly because burying the dead and praying for them are acts of mercy; secondly because they are moments of truth. Depending on how the family of the deceased is treated, they will either grow in openness to God and parish or they will shake the dust from their feet and never look back.
Parish as museum, parish as bank, parish as a school and parish as soup van are part of our commitment to those of the past who built them up, and part of our commitment to those of the future who will benefit when we are long gone and pushing up daisies. The issue is whether scarce resources are being managed with a balance between maintenance and growth.
Surely we would all laugh at the business owner who didn't have budgets for advertising, public relations, professional development, and product research and development. Without them he'd he would see no growth and sooner or later the business would be insolvent. Likewise we can no longer view budgets for pre-evangelisation, kerygma, and adult catechesis as optional luxuries; they have to be looked on as essential costs of doing 'missionary discipleship' business. Granted, those budgets might have to start small and grow gradually, but they have to start!
I do really like the parish as photocopier analogy. It is very good for helping people understand the making disciples process; highlighting why each part of the process is absolutely necessary and working out which part of the process their God-given gifts have equipped them to serve in most. In this model, let's not forget where the electrical power comes from: co-operation with the Holy Spirit and lots of intercessory prayer. Even the best photocopier will be useless unless the connection to the Holy Spirit power source is switched on.
In the next issue will be notes from the homily from the third Mass of the conference with Cardinal Wuerl, archbishop bishop of Washington presiding.