It has now been over a month since Helen and I attended a 2 day Devine Renovation [DR} Conference and a day at an International Alpha Conference in Halifax Nova Scotia. The DR Conference attracted 650 delegates from 8 countries around the world, 170 of whom were priests. Numbered among the delegates were representatives from 38 of the US states. Over 300 of these delegates attended the Alpha Conference on day three.
DR and other initiatives like it have evolved in response to the invitation of our last 3 popes to engage in a “new evangelization”. The newness is in “method”, “ardour” and “expression”.
Our small rural parish of St. Joseph’s is in the process of moving from “maintenance” to “mission” and my wife Helen and I are part of the leadership team helping to facilitate that move. I have had time over the last month to let the Halifax experience sink in.
What has become apparent to me is that responding to the call to newness in evangelization requires a makeover of parish culture if the parish community is to engage a mission mentality. So much of a parish’s culture is beneath the surface and we may therefore only be aware of the small percentage that is above the surface. If we were to dig beneath the surface however we might find that in the interest of catering only to members of the “parish club” we tend to do what we are familiar with and what will feed us [the members of the parish club] to the detriment of our obligation as Christians to reach out of our community to gather in the lost and to assist the needy. We might also find that there lurks beneath the surface a subtle clericalism that justifies the parishioner avoiding all but minimum involvement in his or her Church since, according to that way of thinking, issues of outreach and evangelization are really the purview of the Priest and perhaps consecrated religious and not the responsibility of the lay faithful. The following 1 liner says it all: “We need to be fishers of people and not just keepers of the aquarium”. Our challenge therefore is to answer the question: How do we engender a faith community that is fully committed to mission?
Using St Benedict’s parish of Bedford, Nova Scotia [where Devine Renovation was birthed] as a model of a “mission” parish we were able to identify 6 characteristics of a “mission” church.
- Evidence of an enhanced level in the community of invitation and hospitality;
- The presence in the community of missionary disciples who are intentional about their discipleship. They are serious about their own personal spiritual transformation which they view as an essential element in their ministry of outreach;
- The existence of developing programs to assist outreach to the broken and needy, the disadvantaged, the poor, and those who seek meaning in life and are open to explore a relationship with Jesus;
- A program of leadership development in the community that seeks out and enables leaders who will direct the development and delivery of ministry and service in the community and beyond;
- A commitment to develop resources that can be used to assist spiritual transformation, discipleship and outreach;
- A culture of love [charity] that focuses on relationship building with Jesus and with one another and that animates and sustains the communities outreach programs;
We, at St. Joseph’s, are now ready to use these characteristics to determine how they differ from a “maintenance” parish, where we are now by comparison and how ALPHA will help us to develop the culture we need to effectively move to mission. Out of this exercise our leadership will develop a “vision”, communicate it to the wider community to get them on board and then start the process of strategic planning that will begin to create the infrastructure our parish community needs to develop to become a mission church.
It is an exciting time as we work together to respond to the Great Commission. Please pray for us.