Who are we as a parish? What have we been called to do? Pope Francis is challenging us to make forming missionary disciples our core activity as parishes. We might ask though: is this even possible? This article is intended to ‘provoke’ you and your parish team to engage in some serious thought about what it might mean to be a more missionary parish.
We all have an ideal, and maybe subconscious, image of what a parish is for. Differing understandings of the purpose of a parish can lead to conflict within parish leadership teams. This conflict can thwart your parish mission to make disciples and grow. Here are six common (and slightly tongue-in-cheek) models that can hinder your parish mission:
This model sees the parish as a place to promote leisure and social activities (bingo, concerts, dinners, outings). The focus is on ‘community-building’. But:
This model sees the parish priest and staff as providers of sacramental ‘services’ such as baptisms, funerals and weddings, often for people with little or no church affiliation. This is seen as an important part of the provision of pastoral care, and the priest’s time and the parish facilities are directed towards this. But:
In a ‘museum’ model, change is seen as negative, and stagnation is seen as ‘stability’. We can have a fixation on the physical buildings in the parish and on maintaining things from the past. As numbers decline and we merge communities, parishes can end up with multiple churches, presbyteries and halls, spending up to 80 per cent of total finances in maintaining, insuring and running their buildings. But:
In the ‘bank’ model, the primary focus of the parish is on debt reduction and having money in the bank. When funds are short, staff are fired and programs closed. But:
The ‘school’ model sees the parish school as the major focus of the parish’s financial and missionary energy. Too often we have a Catholic school with a ‘parish’ attached, with parish funds and staff resources primarily used in the school. But:
The ‘soup kitchen’ model sees the primary purpose of the parish as providing services to parishioners and the local community by serving the poor and working for social justice. The ‘parishioner’ is seen as someone in need of care and support, which the priest and parish staff or volunteers provide. But:
What, then, is a useful model for a parish which prioritises the making of missionary disciples?
We can find ourselves working out of a ‘therapeutic’ model of pastoral care, in which parishioners are viewed as coming to us in need of services and care, and in which we see our purpose as priests and leaders as pastorally caring for people. They come to us and we help them.
Rather, what a mission-driven parish does is form competent apostles who are equipped and ready to meet the challenges that face them in the world. Each of our parishioners is called by God and has a special role to play—a unique mission to accomplish. Our role as pastors is to form and equip our parishioners so that they are effective witnesses of God’s love in their workplaces, their local community and the world.
The parish photocopier can serve as an illustration of what a mission-driven parish looks like.
Everything we do as a parish needs to be an ‘in-tray’ feeding people into the heart of the parish (‘photocopier’), which is relationship with Jesus. There are different in-trays for different types of people.
Our parishes can be like jammed photocopiers, drawing people in but then jamming them inside the machine. Such a ‘jammed’ parish fails to send competent missionary disciples out into the world. Instead, the mission-driven parish:
The mission-driven parish is indeed possible! May we see this pandemic as an opportunity to dream about a more intentional missionary focus in our parishes, not putting a box around our expectations of what we think God can do in this time. Instead, may we catch Pope Francis’s dream ‘for a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 2013, §27).
This article is a summary of the ‘Models of parish which hinder your mission’ workshop, and is designed to provoke discussion in parish teams. The ideas presented above are based on a workshop delivered by Fr James Mallon to Catholic Alpha Leaders in May 2014. Proclaim: The Office for Mission Renewal is available to facilitate this workshop (remotely) with your parish team. Contact Lorraine on 0402 217 123 or email@example.com.