On Monday and Tuesday of this week, pastors and lay leaders from every parish in the
Archdiocese will gather in Norfolk, Nebraska to be a part of a conference presented by Fr. James Mallon on
moving parishes from maintenance to mission.
Fr. Mallon wrote a book, Divine Renovation, a few years ago about his own parish’s experience of
making changes that moved them from simply doing the same old things, week after week, to becoming a
dynamic parish where people are truly being formed into disciples of Jesus Christ.
So, the question we will be invited to think about during the conference is whether or not our current state
of affairs in the parish is one of well-intentioned mediocrity or are we moving the parish to be missionary
disciples of Jesus? In a recent study of parish health, more than 90 percent of Mass-going Catholics said they
were satisfied with their parish, but that number is deceptive. Only 24 percent of Catholics say they went to Mass
last week, less than half the rate of fifty years ago. Young adults do not attend on a regular basis. A third of all
baptized Catholics have left the church. This trend is not just affecting Catholics; main line Protestant churches
are also experiencing declining numbers. Our culture does not encourage people to belong to groups, but to “do
their own thing.” People seem to believe that they can be Christians without a community.
Fr. Mallon stresses that the first step is to focus our attention on the regular gatherings of people, the
Sunday liturgy. That is where most people will initially encounter the Christian message and the church. The
secret of successful Sunday liturgies is not very secret. The research about what keeps people coming has been
clear for years: an atmosphere of genuine welcome, good preaching and good music.
What does it mean to be a church of “genuine welcome”? “Welcome” is a matter of attention over time to
the little details. It means being intentional about how we meet one another. Unlike newer church buildings, our
110-year-old building does not have an interior space to gather before and after Mass to have conversations, but I
think most of you feel comfortable talking quietly with one another in the church before Mass begins. There are
usually plenty of conversations going on, people greeting newcomers as they walk in, friends catching up, grown
children and other relatives back for a visit. Even if not everyone is greeted, people appear to enjoy being there.
We have not had a specific ministry of “greeter” here in the parish and maybe someday we will need them, but for
now, I think everyone is a greeter. You should greet everyone you encounter on your way in and out of the
It does not take much to become an unwelcoming parish: parishioners not willing to slide over in the pew
to make room for others, giving someone a nasty look because they are in your normal spot or they look different
from you, failing to smile when others look at you, refusing to extend a hand at the sign of peace or before Mass,
leaving before Mass is over to avoid others, etc. Over the years of priesthood, I have heard many complaints from
people about how they were treated rudely by parishioners and decided never to return because of it. I always
apologize and say we are not a perfect people, just a people who know that there is a loving God, but…their bad
experience…gave them an excuse to leave.
The “good preaching” is not something parishioners can do much about, but is my responsibility and that
of the deacons. I promise you that we continue to work on that! The “good music” is part of the liturgy
committee’s work, but also requires your voice to make the music fill the church. The goal of any church music
program is to get people to sing. Music in churches is not meant to be a concert, but is meant to be participatory.
The congregation is the choir.
To enhance our Sunday worship, we will be improving our sound system over the next few weeks. We
will also be making some minor changes to the way we do liturgies. I hope you find them helpful. Other ideas and
plans from the conference in Norfolk I will share with you in the upcoming weeks.