How can we lead positively and creatively through these times, when so many of the things we normally do as a parish have been suspended?
The swiftness with which our lives have changed over the last few weeks is extraordinary. It is not surprising that some of us find ourselves adrift in this ‘new normal’. So much has changed, and so many of the ‘ordinary’ ways of operating are not currently possible because of government restrictions and because we want to keep the most vulnerable in our community safe. As a church, we have responded to increasingly tighter restrictions, made many enforced changes and negotiated a unique Easter Triduum.
This is not a time just to wait for ‘things to go back to normal’ in a few weeks or months. Rather, it can be a time to revisit our central mission as parishes—to make and form disciples—and to plan for how we will lead our people through this season so that we re-emerge after the shutdown as stronger, more mission-oriented communities. How might we do this? We have identified three main stages in this process, and offer here a number of practical suggestions and strategies to help guide you through them:
Parishes have been forced to hit the ‘pause button’ on what they have always done and have started quickly innovating around immediate concerns. By now, parishes need to have strategies in place for:
Think about how your parish might ‘not only survive but thrive’ under the current circumstances. Nobody knows how long this season will last—even if restrictions begin to lift in next month, there will be a gradual phase-out over many weeks and months. Putting everything on hold isn’t an option. It’s time to lead your team into this new reality. In particular, recognise that this is a golden opportunity to re-evaluate everything the parish is doing. As clumsy and awkward as this adjustment period may be, it is also a time of huge opportunity, fresh growth and enthusiasm.
Plan how you will maximise the effectiveness of communication to staff, parish groups, parishioners and searchers. Let everyone know ‘we are still here’.
There is evidence that many people who are not usual church attenders are giving ‘live-streaming’ Masses a try. The very cohort we usually struggle to reach—younger, tech-savvy millennials—are the ones connecting with us. Wow! Online Mass is a non-threatening way for newcomers to explore our faith without the worry of ‘doing the wrong thing’ or ‘being stuck’ somewhere they feel uncomfortable.
Develop ways that people can serve the parish and wider community during the shutdown, and mobilise these people quickly. People who usually serve in the parish will want to serve.
Zoom is a great platform for this. People in your parish will have many hours per week of extra time they are wanting to fill.
Eventually, this time will pass. Once you have your strategies in place, you may have many months of living in this new reality. Consider using this time as a God-given moment to plan and prepare for a powerful, mission-focused re-emergence.
We are being invited to join Jesus on mission. We are being given an opportunity reshape our parish—and for the parish to look and stay looking different. For decades, we’ve talking about being on mission and mobilising the church for a new evangelisation. Maybe this time provides an opportunity to put these ideas into action. It’s time to do it!
Renewal always starts inside people. The pandemic has created a once-in-a-century opportunity to step outside our normal routine and carefully listen to God in our hidden places.
The Archdiocesan Animation Team is available to discuss strategies with you and/or your team, and to facilitate sessions with your team (remotely) on many topics and issues. Just ask! Contact Lorraine on 0402 217 123, or at email@example.com.
Christian Bergmann10 August 2021