We heard from a lot of people who were excited about our organization and wanted to know more about what we were doing, so we decided, since we're all on the same team anyway, let's just tell everyone exactly how we go about transforming a parish culture. For part one of our series, click here.
Renewing a parish culture is inherently tricky business. There is no one-size-fits all solution. Each parish has its own quirks and culture. From working with parishes, though, we have learned that there are some key overarching strategic outcomes that can be universally applied in flexible ways to any possible parish community. This is because they are principles, more than programs, and so at ground-level can be adaptable to varied parish situations.
These five outcomes form the backbone for our core outreach as an organization: our Parish Partnership. If you're not familiar with who L'Alto Catholic Institute is, I encourage you to peruse our website more, but, simply put, in addition to a parish mission aimed at helping people encounter Jesus personally and a four-part School of Prayer course hosted on site in parishes that forms Catholics in the fundamentals of the spiritual life to help them build a personal and transformative relationship with Jesus, our organization teams up with parishes for the aforementioned consulting relationship that we call a Parish Partnership. During this nine month partnership, we hope to set a parish on a trajectory that will lead to a major cultural transformation over the coming years. Two of our missionaries are sent in to a parish to become intimately acquainted with a parish's culture and then set about working with the pastor, parish staff, and key lay leadership to begin a movement toward building a culture of missionary discipleship.
Our vision and process is simple; we want parishes to double down on building and promulgating a clear pathway to forming disciples in their parish. Simplify and clarify their mission and make progress moving forward. For more on our vision, visit part one of this series here.
Normally, our partnerships begin when a pastor reaches out to me to begin discerning a potential Parish Partnership together. Often, he'll ask me, "What exactly are you going to want to come and do in our parish?" I list for him exactly the same five outcomes that I am about to expound on for you over the next handful of blog posts. Every parish is different, unique. Each has its' own challenges and opportunities. However, there are some key building blocks, a handful of universal principles that can be molded to whichever parish with whom we work. The following posts will spell out those five in detail.
Before I begin, I think it should be stated that I think the reason pastors have been so excited about embarking on the journey of a Parish Partnership is that these five outcomes are not principles that we shout to a parish from a distance that they should really work on. We come close, walk with a parish to actually see these goals accomplished. It is that accompaniment with a pastor and staff, being there in person to work hand-in-hand, that really helps save priests and parish staff from the burnout and frustration that can come from trying to affect cultural change in addition to all of their other work.
Without further ado then, step one in our process is...
1) Cast a vision for the mission of the parish being to form disciples across all aspects of parish life (leadership, laity, programs, etc.)
Does everyone in your parish know that, as the seminal papal encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi tells us, "The Church exists in order to evangelize." If that is the mission of THE Church, then it is also the mission of YOUR church. Does everyone at your parish know that? If we interviewed twenty parishioners, would they be able to articulate that vision succinctly and clearly?
Recently, I had to go get my tires aligned. As you know, if they aren't aligned it can cause damage over time. Parishes work the same way. Even small misalignments in vision mean that parishioners will take it upon themselves to try to wrestle your parish into various boxes that they think it should fit. They might want your parish to be just a social club, or a sacraments factory, or a social justice outreach center. All of those things are not bad things in themselves, but they are most fruitful when connected to the overall mission of the Church which is to evangelize and make disciples. So, start there. Align everything and everyone in your parish with that mission.
How would you define the term "parish?" What is a parish in the first place? Why do they exist? Often when we think of a parish, we get the image of the church building where we congregate for most parish related activities, liturgical and otherwise. In reality, though, a parish represents a geographical area. The entire world is chopped up into little geographical areas. A pastor and the Catholic congregation that he serves and gathers in that geographical area do not exist to simply be a Holy Huddle unto themselves. This congregation is gathered in that area to be salt and leaven for the rest of the area. There is an entire geographic location that is the evangelistic responsibility of the Catholic community which resides in that area. The pastor sanctifies his lay parishioners so that they can go out and sanctify the world. This is the vision of documents like Christifideles Laici in which Pope St. John Paul II spells out a vision for all baptized lay Catholics to lay hold of their call to form disciples in the secular world. This is what our parishes are called to be!
If that is our calling as a parish, then that needs to be known, deeply, by every member of that community. There is nothing worse than someone who gives directions at the last minute, right? You're halfway through the intersection and suddenly they shriek, Turn left! It is the job as a leader to first have a clear vision in their head of where the organization is going, but, then, to invite others to see that vision with them. Show everyone the destination. There, right there, is where we are going. Others, talented disciples in the parish, will begin to find creative ways to self-actualize in helping your parish reach the of becoming a community of missionary disciples that you did not anticipate. Inviting others to share your vision is the best way to ensure that everyone embarks on the same adventure, together.
Having the entire parish on the same page about where the parish is heading is not just exciting for parishioners, it is actually essential If you broke a football huddle without actually spelling out the play, chaos would ensue. The same is true for when we try to renew parishes without first spelling out our common mission and that mission should be pulled from the timeless teaching that the Church, and every parish, has a single "Why" behind its entire existence, and that is to evangelize.
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