Music, message and ministers key to vibrant parishes
|Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran had a challenging message for participants at the Proclaim 2014 Conference. Photo: Aoife Connors, ACBC.|
Originally published in Catholic Outlook October 2014
By Debra Vermeer
The key to building a vibrant parish which engages its members in a growing discipleship of Jesus Christ, and reaches out to others, is to focus time and energy on improving the weekend experience through the three pillars of music, message and ministers, the recent Proclaim 2014 conference heard.
Fr Michael White, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Baltimore, Maryland, US, and his associate Mr Tom Corcoran, authors of the book Rebuilt, were the keynote speakers at Proclaim 2014, a conference hosted in Chatswood by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference through its National Office for Evangelisation.
Fr Michael told those gathered from parishes, dioceses, religious congregations, movements and groups right across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, that the development of a healthy parish life must begin with the question ‘why?’.
“Why do we do what we do? Why does the Church exist? Why does the Church at its heart, in the parish, exist?” he asked.
Fr Michael said that when he and Tom arrived at the Church of the Nativity, they found a sleepy kind of parish and thought that if they invested energy in programs and services for parish members, the parish would be successful.
“In other words, we fell, unwittingly, into a consumer mentality,” he said. “That the people in the pews are customers and we were there to serve them, as retail representatives. We were there to help them consume religion, or whatever it was that they were coming to us to get.”
After investing all his time and energy in creating a huge range of parish activities and programs, Fr Michael said he reached breaking point.
“Finally, and at last, I asked the question, ‘why am I doing this?’” he said.
So Fr Michael and Tom went back to the drawing board to ask ‘why?’ Why does the Church exist? Why does the parish exist?
They found the answer in Matthew 28, where the resurrected Jesus assembles the 11 remaining apostles and tells them to ‘Go and make disciples’.
That call, to go and make disciples, is universal, which in the parish context, means to reach out to all those within the parish area, not just those already in the pews.
And, to make disciples, means to lead people to grow in their love of God and of neighbour, and then, as a result of that growth, to go themselves and make disciples.
Fr Michael said his dream took off when he humbled himself to begin learning from other healthy, growing churches across the US.
He and Tom learnt three important lessons from the evangelical churches they visited: That they needed to change their focus from churched people to unchurched people; they had to prioritise the weekend experience so that people would be touched and changed in some way by it; and they needed to move the ‘church people’ to action and to growth in discipleship.
“Prioritising the weekend experience rests on three pillars – music, message and ministers,” Tom said.
Fr Michael said music had the greatest potential to reach lost people and unchurched people and people who are far from God.
“Because it has such great potential, it is always going to be a difficult piece to get right (but) you’ve got to make the investment … of commitment and courage to offering the very best music program that your parish can provide,” he said.
And a renewed emphasis on shaping the homily is crucial, because a powerful message that touches hearts is the primary way in which unconnected people feel fed when they come to Mass.
They also asked people to step up into new forms of ministry, from parking wardens to hosts who greet people and help them to their seat, children’s ministry, youth ministry and others.
“Together, these teams are working to create an irresistible environment,” Tom said.
Finally, the two authors said that once people are connected to the Church and the parish, there must be a commitment to helping them continue to grow as disciples of Jesus and to share their faith with others.Resources from Proclaim 2014 will be available at: http://www.proclaimconference.com.au/
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