'Fire' will nourish hungry hearts

One trait of amazing parishes is that the 'Sunday experience' for people who attend church is great.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

One trait of amazing parishes is that the 'Sunday experience' for people who attend church is great.

September 22, 2014
NISSA LAPOINT
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Parish revitalization requires a Church filled with hearts on fire for Christ and parishioners helpful to fallen-away Catholics navigating their way back to church.

"Yes, the Eucharist is enough, but so many people need more to understand that," Patrick Lencioni, an author and leadership consultant, told the recent invitation-only Amazing Parish Conference in Denver.

"Those people out there who are former Catholics or Catholics going other places, they're hungry for what you have," Lencioni said.

John Martin of Denver, a co-founder of the movement, said the group wants attendees to have "a zeal to take their parish to a level where parishioners are active disciples for Christ."

This personal zeal is necessary for a transformation, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis said during a talk on evangelization.

"If we don't have the fire in us, it's because we're living a lukewarm and superficial existence," he said.

Cozzens suggested the best incentive for sharing the Gospel message comes from contemplating Christ in love.

"The fire begins to grow as I spend time with the one I love and when that fire grows, then the Holy Spirit can use me," he explained.

The bishop added that true zeal begins where natural enthusiasm ends.

"When you reach the end of natural enthusiasm and spiritual failure and weakness and you can't go on, invite the Lord, then a real transformation can happen and then real zeal begins," he said.

Other conference talks were built on the idea that a parish is where most people come to know Christ.

An alarming number of Americans are missing such an opportunity, according to the Pew Research Center. "Nones" or those with no religious identity are a growing 19 per cent or one-fifth of the population – and one-third of adults younger than 30 – researchers found in a 2012 poll.

SHIFTING FOCUS

Father Michael White, a pastor in Timonium, Md., and associate Tom Corcoran shared how they shifted focus to unchurched people.

Instead of adding more programs and ministries, the parish made the Sunday experience its top priority and sought the help of regular parishioners. People in the pews were no longer approached as customers, he said.

"We were not leading people and we were not making disciples, but we were creating religious consumers in our parish," White said about the programs and activities his parish laboured to provide. "So much of it was a waste of time."

TOOLS FOR REBUILDING

White and Corcoran have written two books – Rebuilt and Tools for Rebuilding – about the lessons they learned.

They asked attendees to brainstorm ways to reach the unchurched through the Sunday experience.

"I want to see the average parishioner reawakened," said Cathy Gold, a member of a 5,000-family parish in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. "Everyone should be sitting on the edge of their seat."

After the discussion, Oblate Father Jarek Pochocki, a pastor in Hamilton, Ont., said he and his parishioners could work on reaching out to the small and diverse community.

SEVEN TRAITS

"The topics seem obvious, but this (conference) really reinforces our understanding of it," Pochocki said.

The Amazing Parish movement has identified seven traits of an "amazing parish" – a reliance on prayer, a real leadership team, clear vision, the Sunday experience, compelling formation, small group discipleship and missionary zeal.

The movement provides free resources for Catholic leaders, clergy and laity to achieve the seven traits at www.amazingparish.org.

TREMENDOUS HUNGER

Organizer Dominic Perri said the organization also will provide consultants to individual parishes.

"There's a tremendous hunger for this," Perri said. "We're here to serve the (parishes)."