As we come to the conclusion of this message series, it is important for us to make the series real in our lives. Our faith is not just something we do on Sundays but it is the most important aspect of our lives. It help us be the very best version of ourselves and hopefully be Christ for those around us along the way to eternal life. This last reflection of the series focusses on the journey ahead for our family of parishes.
THE PANDEMIC OPPORTUNITY
The pandemic has been a great challenge for all of us. We are tired, worn out and long for a return to so many opportunities that we are missing right now. This may overshadow the possibilities to reflect, re-evaluate and change. This global crisis has forced us to slow down, re-examine what is crucial in our lives and what we do from day to day. It has forced parishes to think outside the box and look for different ways to be church. It has opened our eyes to the need of crucial shifts in how we function, serve, and minister as the Church. How can we make a lasting, relevant and meaningful “comeback” in our family of parishes that will help change the world?
(1) FROM MAINTENANCE TO MISSION
Probably the most necessary yet most difficult change that most parishes and family of parishes in our diocese need to do is to shift from maintaining the status quo and surviving (hoping that people will come to church) to setting up parish structures, facilities and ministry for mission (reaching out and seeking the unchurched, lost and forgotten). This complete shift takes us from being passive bystanders hoping for acceptance and growth to an active engagement with our culture today seeking to make relevant the life changing Good News of the Gospel.
The world has changed and people have drifted away from faith and the Church—Have we noticed? Declining Mass attendance, finances and people receiving the sacraments indicate a need for a new strategy. We need to shift our resources from maintaining buildings to investing in people by creating new ministries, programs, outreach and adding staff who help form disciples.
(2) SETTING UP OUR FAMILY OF PARISHES FOR OUTSIDERS
If we want to invite people who don’t usually attend Mass or come to parish events, we need to make sure that they feel welcomed and loved. We want people to tell everyone that there is something special going on in our faith community that fills hearts.
This must begin through overwhelming hospitality that spans every aspect of parish life. When people call the office, walk into one of our churches or search for things on our website—we need to serve with joy, love and compassion. Everyone needs to feel appreciated and cared for.
We also need to give people the ability to pray easily (like having the Mass responses on screens), find answers to their questions (responding to their needs) and offer ministry, programs and sacramental preparation that connects with their daily lives. All of this needs to be easily accessible and convenient for a variety of schedules.
(3) POWERFUL “WEEKEND EXPERIENCE”
The source and summit of our faith is the celebration of the Eucharist. To truly be faithful disciples who share the Good News we must experience meaningful, relevant and powerful Masses that feed the soul. This requires joyful hospitality, amazing music and relevant practical homilies that connect faith to daily life. We don’t want people to survive Mass or be thankful it is over—we want people to encounter the Risen Lord through the entire experience that will inspire them to be Jesus in our world.
(4) FORMING DISCIPLES
The only way we are going to reach outsiders (those who do not come to church) is by forming, encouraging, inspiring and equipping insiders (those who attend church) to be Jesus in the world, serving in love and inviting others to encounter Him in our family of parishes. Knowing, understanding and experiencing our faith through prayer, scripture, formation programs and outreach helps all of us to be like the Apostles, commissioned to share the joy of the Gospel with others.
Our parishes are really schools of faith in which we as students encounter Christ, the Master, who sends us out to change the world.
(5) SERVING THOSE IN NEED
The most powerful sign of the living gospel is service to those in need. This includes the hungry, homeless, sick, mourning and lonely. I am amazed at the wonderful outreach that takes place in the Chatham Catholic Family of Parishes already, and I am thankful to all the volunteers who dedicate so much time and effort to bring hope and love to those suffering in various ways. Yet we still need to do more as we see a great need in our city.
FAITH COMMUNITY CENTRE
I see a promising future for our family of parishes when we move from trying to maintain what we have and know (which will mean change and a need to let go of some things) to re-igniting our mission to reach out and bring people to Christ through our churches (embracing a new strategy, using different ways to connect and engage the world).
Our family of parishes can truly become a “faith community centre” where people encounter Jesus in prayer and the sacraments, build relationships through social gatherings and being Christ by serving those in need.
For a real “comeback” from the many storms in this world being a sign of hope, love and Christ—we will need to change, let go and embrace new opportunities all guided by the Holy Spirit. For this to happen, we will all need to work together so that God’s light may always shine brightly!!