Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran, the writers of 'Rebuilt' were then introduced. During that introduction they were called the Paul and Barnabas of our day. After acknowledging the barriers of language and distance between us and them, they then took turns in talking.
Tom graduated from Loyola University, Baltimore in 1996, and after a brief look at a career in politics was invited to do youth ministry work at the parish of The Nativity. Since he was getting ready to propose marriage to a young lady, the mundane need for a regular pay cheque swung the deal. She is now his wife and they have 7 children, 5 boys and 2 girls.
Fr Michael insisted that they are experts only in what works in their parish at this time in history. What works in their context may not work in your context.
Fr Michael said that the most important question we have to ask ourselves is 'Why?'. It is an uncomfortable question and one we need to ask ourselves sooner and more frequently. Why am I here? Why am I doing this task? Why does the Church / parish exist? Purpose, meaning and value come from answering these Why questions.
When we first arrived at our parish, it was obvious that it was a sleepy one. So we said to ourselves,' let's provide more programmes and services', 'that will get it going'. Unwittingly our actions fed a consumer mentality in our parishioners, and reinforced the notion that we retail representatives of the Church sent to serve them.
We put all kinds of programmes together, social, youth, concerts etc.
Much of this work was a waste of time.
Just like in Lewis Carroll's story, we were experiencing what the Queen told Alice, 'You have to do all the running you can do to stay in the same place'. The more we provided, the more was demanded. The net effect of our efforts was that we were creating consumers who did not change, and were increasingly demanding consumers at that.
The crunch came for Fr Michael after 5 years of running a very labour intensive Lenten programme. It was called Family Friendly Fridays, and had a free dinner, a talk, and other stuff. This programme was in addition to the already packed parish schedule. By the time the team came to the 6th and final Family Friendly Friday of the Lenten season, which seemed like it had gone on forever, they were at total burnout point – and this just prior to facing the marathon that is Holy Week. On this last night of the Family Friendly Fridays for that year a woman approached him to complain nastily about the free food. Yes, about the FREE food. Something snapped. He realised that he could no longer do this. This programme was wasting his time, and not changing the attendees at all. There was a distinct lack of purpose and impact.
At last he asked himself the 'Why am I doing this?' question.
To work without purpose leads to heartache, depression and despair.
Jesus is clear about why the Church exists. Matthew 28:16-20. He assembles the apostles, and declares to them that the devil is no longer prince over this world because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. He endured the Passion to win back this authority. Now He declares to the apostles, 'now I pass it on to you'. 'Take it' not to run Bingo, not to run pot-luck dinners, not to run youth lock-ins, but to Go and Make Disciples of All Nations. This is why the Church exists.
A parish is a geographical area. We are responsible not just for those in the pews, but for all those who dwell within the parish boundaries.
What is a disciple? They are students learning to follow Jesus the Master – not perfect- but trying each day to be better disciples. A disciple is someone growing to love God, growing to love others and growing in making disciples. To be a disciple involves turning everything in our lives over to Him. To be a disciple means that you are trying to love God with all you have and trying to love your neighbour as yourself. Disciples naturally make disciples. If they are truly in a relationship with Jesus, then they bring others with them.
Take the example of the woman at the well. John 4: 1-42 She went back to the community she had been ostracised from to say, 'Come and see a man who knows everything about me, but still loves me'. They came, they saw, and many became disciples.
Take the example of the Gerasene demoniac. Mark 5: 1-20. Jesus freed him from a legion of demons, who then went into the pigs. When the former demoniac asks to go with Jesus, the reply of Jesus is unusual. Not 'Come, follow Me' but 'Stay here and tell the people what God has done for you'. The bloke must have done a good job, because the next time Jesus returns to that region of Galilee there is a large crowd waiting for Him to preach to them.
We have to carefully ask ourselves in each of our Church activities, 'Are we making disciples or creating religious consumers?'.
Things only began to change in our parish when we acknowledged that what we were doing wasn't working, when we began to seek God's guidance in prayer, and when we were humble enough to start seeking healthy churches to learn from – even if this meant learning from non-Catholic Christians.
In the next blog-post the Keynote speech continues, reflecting upon the three big lessons Fr Michael and Tom learned from these other churches about making church matter.
To read the first chapter of Rebuilt for free, visit http://rebuiltparish.com/book/ and fill out the details in the black box on the right hand side of the screen.