Faith communities that grow and evangelise
Originally published in Catholic Outlook August 2013
By Daniel Ang, Pastoral Planning Officer
In our last update we raised the two basic goals that our Pastoral Plan, Faith in Our Future, will place before each and every community: growing in faith and sharing our faith. But what does it mean for our communities to flourish in faith and evangelise? We can sometimes take for granted that the people in our parish pews or migrant communities are growing in faith.
It is sobering to consider that Mass attendance in itself is no guarantee that people are coming to a deeper encounter and understanding of the person and message of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. As the poet TS Eliot affirmed, we can have the experience but miss the meaning.
Church research tells us that when parishes are genuinely growing in relationship to Jesus, individual stories of conversion become more frequent and normal, there is a developing hunger for the sacraments, including Confession, there is an increase in biblical literacy and a growing comprehension of Catholic teaching, as well as a stronger sense of belonging to a community of disciples that has purpose, a genuine mission to promote the Kingdom of God.
When communities grow, small groups also begin to multiply and attract new members, and hospitality and social gatherings become more frequent and normal as parishioners enjoy sharing faith and life together as members of the one body.
On the other hand, communities that do not grow rarely remain where they are but actually begin to experience decline. This includes diminishing Mass attendance and membership of the community, a greater struggle to recruit volunteers for parish activities and events, a scarcity of new ideas and initiatives, and even a decline in contributions to parish finances as people no longer feel bonded to the community or the mission for which it exists.
Of course, all parishes and communities will experience stronger periods of life and lesser phases as demographics and parish leaders change. However, we must seek to ensure that over the long term our people are maturing in Catholic faith and are being encouraged to express it both within and beyond the confines of the community.
This brings us to our second goal. What do evangelising communities look like? In the first months of his pontificate, Pope Francis underscored the need for the Church, including our parishes, to look beyond self-interest and comfort to discover its identity in witness and service to others.
This builds upon the emphasis of preceding popes on the New Evangelisation, a renewed missionary impulse to proclaim the Gospel to the world. It is clear our parishes can no longer simply wait for people to ‘come and see’ but are being challenged to ‘go and tell’ in the everyday spaces of their lives.
If our communities evangelise we should expect to see new disciples in our midst, with more and more people baptised into the life of Jesus and His body, the Church, each year. An evangelising parish will also be well engaged with the wider community and be known for its civic involvement. A litmus test for this form of engagement is to ask, ‘If your parish closed tomorrow, would anyone but its member notice?’ We believe that these two goals – growing our faith and sharing our faith – are inseparable and make for strong communities of faith.
If we are growing disciples, they will become better witnesses and share their faith with others; if we evangelise and bring new people to Christ and His Church, they promote the growth of existing members by their witness and freshness of experience of Jesus. We commonly see this in our RCIA groups where new members, while not always full disciples, often become catalysts or a leaven for the rest of us, renewing an awareness of what it means to have a Christian vocation.
So that’s the overall vision and the challenge that will be laid out by our developing Diocesan Pastoral Plan. While Faith in Our Future will be released in February 2014 there is no need to wait to begin thinking and praying about what your community could do, even now, to grow disciples and make new ones.
We hope the Pastoral Plan will assist communities in building upon the many good things that are already happening right throughout our Diocese of Parramatta.
Winners of our Pastoral Planning prize draw
Congratulations to the three winners of our recent prize draw! They are:
Sr S. Nguyen (Granville) – winner of an iPod nano;
K Zarnora (Stanhope Gardens) – winner of Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers; and
C Barry (Granville) – winner of Pope Benedict XVI’s The Fathers Vol. I and II
Thank you to everyone who submitted their responses to our draft parish goals in May and June. Your advice has greatly enriched the direction and substance of Faith in Our Future as it enters the final stages of development.
Look out for more pastoral planning updates via our website: www.faithinourfuture.org.au
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