At the heart of the search to evangelize in new ways is the notion of “mission” and the cultural soil that nourishes a mission driven initiative. This process contemplates an ending, a period in the wilderness and finally an arrival. The process itself could apply to any initiative that stimulates significant change for significant change always presupposes a period of transition.
There is a good example we can point to in the secular world and at least one compelling scriptural example. As baby boomer Canadians, many of us experienced a significant change in the mid 1970s with the introduction of the metric system of measurements. This was indeed a cultural shift in our way of doing things and it was accompanied by a period of transition as we learned to deal with essentially a new language. It was arguably a necessary change for Canada in order for Canada to relate to many other countries whose measurement systems were metric in order to facilitate our trading relationships. Most of us who were adults in the mid 1970s have adjusted slowly over time. I know that even now I think firstly in miles per gallon rather than litres per 100 kilometers and in measuring temperature I’m always converting Celsius to Fahrenheit and in using a ruler I choose to measure in inches rather than centimeters. When I discuss the issue with my children, all of whom were born after 1975, however, they don’t relate at all to the previous system and are comfortably at home in metric. This is a good example of a change prompting transition and the dynamics of transition in accommodating change.
In the scriptural account of the Exodus we see a similar pattern of change and transition visited upon the Hebrew people who had lived in Egypt for many generations. Life had got so difficult for them however that eventually, for most of them, anything was better than living under the yoke of their Egyptian masters. Their residence in Egypt came to an end and they wandered in the wilderness for about 40 years as they transitioned from Egypt to the promised land. During their pilgrimage to the “promised land” they experienced a “boundary event” in the drowning of their Egyptian pursuers in the Red Sea. At that point there was no going back although many of them complained bitterly of the years in the wilderness and those who eventually reached the promised land were not the generation that began the journey but rather their children and grandchildren.
In the move to metric, Canadians also experienced a boundary event and it’s generally known as the 49th parallel. In Canada you can’t go back to the old system.
These examples are important to any parish community looking at moving from a maintenance mode of operation to a mission mode in order to accommodate the new evangelization.
When a parish community considers change to accommodate the new evangelization it generally looks to a change in parish culture to facilitate mission. At St Joseph’s parish in Vanderhoof we’ve identified 6 cultural aspects of mission culture. These are “hospitality”, “invitation”, “outreach”, “relationship building with one another and with Jesus”, “Holy Spirit inspired prayer ministry” and “Stewardship”. We know that some of these cultural values exist already in our community to a greater or lesser extent but we also know that we are challenged to do a cultural makeover as we also exhibit values such as “minimalism”, clericalism, an inclination to be insular rather than outreaching and an inclination not to recognize the importance of allotting sufficient human and financial resources to evangelization efforts. One of our significant weaknesses is our failure to be “Invitational”.
We are blessed with a Pastor and with an Evangelization Team that has absorbed the “Devine Renovation” model promoted by Fr. James Mallon and others and we are determined to grow our parish in our move to bring others to Jesus by influencing the development of missionary disciples as we promote our move to mission.
We have now identified mission values and will be shortly working on strategic planning to accommodate our move to mission. We know that our community will struggle with transition as we introduce change and that this will mean a significant period of time in the wilderness before we get to our goal.
We have adopted ALPHA as our pipeline into the community for seekers and for inactive Catholics. We recognize that Alpha does not feed the sheep but it is the best general introduction to the Christian faith for seekers and for inactive Catholics that we’ve been able to find because of its ability to proclaim the Kerygma and because ALPHA, done right, is an outstanding culture and one that will help us to build our mission culture. At St. Joseph’s we also will have to experience a “boundary event” and we see that event occurring as new members joining our community, who have been inoculated with the ALPHA culture that promotes and celebrates the cultural values of mission, help us to facilitate and encourage existing members of our community to adopt the new cultural values that identify mission. At some point in time, sufficient of our members, existing and new, will have adopted and embraced the call to missionary discipleship and at that point our goal of a missionary community will have been realized and the dangers of sliding back into maintenance will have for the most part diminished. In the meantime, however, we face the perils of transition and the challenge of creating a community that will assist individuals to commit their entire life to Jesus.