"If your church were to be suddenly uprooted from the community, what would the community feel is missing?" Obviously, there are times when this tragically happens. A fire, a tornado, a hurricane, or some other disaster can strike a local community and physically destroy the church building. We typically see the strength of those communities during those difficult times.
I have posed the question to many groups and have learned some interesting things. Here are just a couple of observations.
1. I have frequently received blank stares. After a long awkward silence, a few nervous people will start offering some suggestions. As the discussion progresses we are able to discern the gifts of the parish community. At the end of the discussion, some people recognize that their community is doing ministry quite well. Others recognize that they could use a boost in one way or another. This may be in regard to having a clear vision, a more organized approach to ministry, more energy, more prayer, more service, and a whole list of additional possibilities.
2. On the other hand, some parish communities don't even have to hesitate to answer the question when posed. They know who their parish community is and what their particular charisms are.
It has fascinated me to witness the two extremes in response to the question. The silence and uncertainty from some communities makes you wonder what is or is not going on in the parish. The certainty and conviction of other communities as they explain the details of how they are living out the Gospel message is refreshing and exciting. What is taking place in the parish where parishioners truly know their purpose and their mission as a group and as individuals? What role does the Sunday liturgy serve in shaping a vibrant community of faith? What communications from the pastor help foster this environment of growth? How do all of the ministries of the parish build upon one another? There is something to be learned from these communities.
Nearly twenty years ago a pastor invited me into his parish to do a workshop with his parish council. Specifically, he wanted me to help them establish a vision for the parish based upon the parish mission statement. I was not connected to the parish in any way so I had to do some research. I did not want to walk into the situation unprepared. Also, he wanted this completed in a three-hour time frame. I knew I had to be organized.
On the evening we gathered I did not waste any time. We jumped right into prayer to ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and then I asked my opening question. "Does the mission statement say what you want it to say?" I had placed a copy of their mission statement in front of each one of them. After reading it a time or two they slowly and hesitantly responded one by one with an affirmative yes. The mission statement says what we want it to say. My second question to them was one word. "Really?"
There was so much doubt in their affirmation that I knew we had to go deeper. There was a mixture of them being unsure about the statement, but probably even more angst from them trying to figure out what I was looking for in regard to their response. Saying what the teacher wants to hear still resonates even in adulthood.
It took an hour to finally reach awareness of what was missing in the mission statement. The revelation brought some amazing feedback in body language from the group. While I could have saved time and just told them what I thought was missing, it paid great dividends to walk through a process to let them discover it for themselves. What was missing? Their whole mission statement was inward focused. It was all about what they would do on the parish campus to take care of their own needs. They were not taking the Gospel message out to the world. In reality, they actually were taking the Gospel message out to the world. They were just keeping it a secret by not stating it in their mission statement.
At the end of the three hours we had not developed a specific plan as had been requested by the pastor, but I had equipped them with new insights, joy, excitement, and the skills to complete the task on their own. The parish council members were excited. I think the pastor would have preferred a completed project to take the task off of his to-do list. However, he did invite me back for a couple of other events through the years so I guess we did okay.
Why do I bring this all up now? In a way, each of our parish communities have been uprooted from the community by being closed for the virus. What has been the impact? Obviously, people have also been locked down so it is hard to make a clean observation. However, what particular charism of your parish has been able to shine despite the shutdown?
Memes on social media say that the Church is not closed. We have been sent on mission. I have seen that in many instances, and I am grateful for all those that continue to bring the love of Christ to others. Keep up the good work. In other cases, I am getting the impression we have been uprooted and have vanished from the scene. I hope those observations are inaccurate.
Do you know what the mission statement, purpose statement, vision statement, or the tag line of your parish says? Some are short and easy to remember. Others are more detailed. I will simply highlight two statements today that have impressed me.
Short and sweet:
"May you find Christ here...May you Bring Christ to the World."
Assumption Catholic Church in O'Fallon, Missouri
It is a wide open statement that lets you fill in the details of how it is accomplished.
We are Christ’s eyes, ears, mouth, hands, and feet – sent out to do justice, especially for the poor and oppressed, to minister to the needs of the community, to be faithful stewards of God’s creation – awakening faith among the hopeless, and promoting life even within the culture of death.
Cathedral Parish of Saint Augustine, Florida
This one excites me because it is practical and tangible. I can almost "feel" what it is like to live the Gospel message because of the details provided.
Reflection questions for today:
1. Do you have a personal mission statement that guides your life?
2. If yes, is it working? Explain.
3. If not, do you need one? Explain.
4. What role do you play in fulfilling the mission statement of your parish?
Keep the faith. Pray the rosary.