The Vineyard of Parish Life
I wanted to draw DC readers’ attention to three interesting articles on parish life from three different publications. The first is from Godspy, an online Catholic magazine that deserves to be more widely known. The article, entitled Unleashing the Laity, talks about the efforts of Fr. Peter Grover, a priest of the Oblates of Mary, to revive an urban parish in Boston. His approach has been to put worship and catechesis first, encouraging parishioners to learn more about–and to talk more about—their faith. Fr. Peter believes the relative torpidity of many parishes is a function of “lingering clericalism.” He wants to learn lessons from some of the more successful lay ecclesial movements. This quote from Fr. Peter stuck with me:
We can’t just tell people about Christ’s life…we have to inspire our people to want Christ’s life inside them. You can only have joy by living God’s life. You’ve got to fall in love. The Lord asks Peter: “Do you love me?” You’ve got to answer that question. Then the good works follow.
Now another article I came across recently looked at the efforts of Holy Family Catholic Community in Chicago, that bills itself as “an evangelical parish in the Roman Catholic tradition. Holy Family has been trying to learn lessons from the well-known non-denominational Willow Creek megachurch that is only 3 miles away. The parish has 3,700 families. Here’s a quote from the pastor, Rev. Pat Brennan:
I think what happened to the Catholic Church is we became a little comfortable with ourselves and forgot some of what made us Catholic. We forgot what made us passionate…So I’ve just taken the best that I’ve seen of Catholic parishes and evangelical churches and put them together to make Holy Family. In doing that, I think we’ve rediscovered the heart of Catholicism.
Are there a lot of differences between these two parishes? Sure there are. Lots of them. But I’m more interested in the similarities: the stress on making a personal decision for Christ and the importance of lay leadership. In an American Catholic culture increasingly characterized by religious voluntarism, those are probably critical tools for building vibrant parish life.
And here’s a final essay from Commonweal’s own John Garvey who, by himself, is probably worth the price of my subscription (I keep bugging Grant and Tim to put out a collection of his columns). Garvey, an Orthodox priest, writes about why people join churches, and notes that the reasons are often complex:
Any pastor knows that the church exists as something like a series of concentric circles. At the center of the church are those people who are there because they are serious about belief, truly committed to Christian belief. Then there are those who believe the church makes sense, as much as anything else, and since it was good enough for their parents or for some good friends it is good enough for them. Then there are (especially in ethnic parishes) those who go to the Orthodox or Catholic church because that’s what you do if you are Russian or Greek or Italian or Irish. There are, at the outer limits, seekers, and people who are alone and simply need the company.
It is important for the church to meet all of these people wherever they are, hoping to bring people in the outer circles closer to the center. But just as Jesus met Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, and the doubting father (who wanted his son’s cure more than anything else, even authentic faith), we have to see that even the tentative approach is holy, that the desire to find something, even something as simple as human companionship, is a sign of the need we have to be one with others, something that at its heart brings us into the mystery of the Trinity. It may be hard to see the coffee hour as something that has to do with the mystery of the Trinity, but there is a sense in which, if you can’t find it there, you won’t find it anywhere.
Good material for reflection for those of us toiling in the vineyard of parish life.