Taking people from ‘nones’ to regulars

Amazing Parish Conference debut highlights parishioner experience

Nissa LaPoint
Father Michael White, left, Patrick Lencioni, center, and Tom Corcoran talk about creating an amazing Sunday experience at the first Amazing Parish Conference Aug. 27-28 in Denver.

Catholic heavyweights behind a Denver-launched parish revitalization movement shared with evangelizers across the country last week the keys to converting the unchurched into front-pew regulars.

Some 140 parishes and organizations from as far as New York and Canada gathered for an invitation-only workshop called The Amazing Parish Conference Aug. 27-28 in Denver to help churches become more vibrant centers for an encounter with Christ.

The first conference, funded by the local VINE Foundation, drew Catholic leaders including Jeff Cavins, Curtis Martin and Chris Stefanick to present with businessman Patrick Lencioni seven identified traits of an “amazing parish”—a reliance on prayer, a real leadership team, a clear vision, the Sunday experience, compelling formation, small group discipleship and missionary zeal.

What’s missing is not the sacraments, according to key organizers. What’s needed is 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,” Lencioni, author and leadership consultant, said to the packed conference room inside the Hyatt Regency. “Those people out there who are former Catholics or Catholics going other places—they’re hungry for what you have. We know the most important part. This conference is about all the other things.”

Founders are calling it a Holy Spirit-inspired movement that began on the day Pope Francis was selected pontiff in March 2013.

Co-founder John Martin of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver told the Denver Catholic Register they want attendees to have “a zeal to take their parish to a level where parishioners are active disciples for Christ.”

 

Hearts on fire
This personal zeal is necessary for a transformation, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said during his talk on evangelization.

“If we don’t have the fire in us it’s because we’re living a lukewarm and superficial existence,” he told the crowded conference room.

He urged pastors and parish staff that the best incentive for sharing the Gospel message comes from inside, 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.

Parishes were asked to brainstorm ideas for putting this into action.

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.”

 

From consumers to disciples
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 this opportunity, according to the Pew Research Center. “Nones” or those with no religious identity are a growing 19 percent or one-fifth of the population—and a third of adults under 30—researchers found in a 2012 poll.

Father Michael White, pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., and associate Tom Corcoran, shared how they shifted focus to these unchurched people.

Instead of adding more programs and ministries, the parish prioritized the Sunday experience and mobilized the help of regular parishioners.

The 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,” Father White shared about the programs and activities they labored to provide. “So much of it was a waste of time.”

Together the pastor and associate authored the books “Rebuilt” and “Tools for Rebuilding” about the lessons they learned.

They asked attendees to brainstorm on ways to reach the unchurched by reevaluating their worship music, the message given during homilies and how ministers affect the Sunday experience.

“I want to see the average parishioner reawakened,” said Cathy Gold, parishioner at the 5,000-family St. Patrick’s Church in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. “Everyone should be sitting on the edge of their seat.”

After the discussion, Father Jarek Pochocki, O.M.I., pastor of St. Lawrence the Martyr and St. Patrick churches in Hamilton, Ontario, said he and his parishioners could work on reaching out to the small and diverse community.

“The topics seem obvious but this (conference) really reinforces our understanding of it,” he said.

During the conference, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of the Archdiocese of Denver celebrated Mass. Matt Maher led an evening of music, and adoration and confession were made available.

Lencioni presented on “a real leadership team,” Lisa Brennikmeyer presented on “small group discipleship,” Martin on “a reliance on prayer,” Cavins on “compelling formation,” and Matt Manion joined Lencioni to speak on “a clear vision.”

 

Resources
The Amazing Parish movement has provided free resources for Catholic leaders, clergy and laity, to achieve the seven traits at www.amazingparish.org. Key organizer Dominic Perri said the movement will also provide consultants to help parishes become thriving centers.

“The response has been tremendous,” he said during the conference. “There’s a tremendous hunger for this. … We’re here to serve the (parishes).”

 

 

COMING UP: What is a deacon?

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Hands of man holding holy bible and wooden rosary

This column is by Deacon Joe Donohoe.

On June 18, 2017, the Catholic Church celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing of “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” (Sacred Order of the Diaconate) by Pope Paul
VI. This ecclesial document is significant to the life of the Church as it restores the offi ce of the diaconate to a permanent position within the sacrament of Holy Orders.

The Church uses the word “permanent” to mean that the
deacon does not progress through the hierarchy of the Church but remains a deacon through eternity.

So, what have we discovered about this vocation since 1967? First of all, we have learned that a deacon is not
a priest nor is he a parishioner. He is clergy and an ordained minister with the indelible mark of Holy Orders.
His vocation comes from his ordination in which he promises obedience to the bishop and becomes radically
available to Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church.

We also know that some deacons are single; yet, many are married and have families. Most deacons have secular jobs and a few are employed within the Church. Deacons are also in the seminary. Men discerning the priesthood are first ordained deacons and retain this charism into their priestly ordination. Regardless, all deacons are called by God to evangelize and bring the message of the Gospel to those in the workplaces, parishes, homes and the public square.

We’ve learned that deacons are called to be an example of holiness; especially important to those who lack a positive role model in their homes and work places. A deacon is called to make frequent prayer an important part of his daily routine.

As an icon of Jesus Christ, the servant who came to serve, not to be served, prayer proves to be essential for his
ministry and his life.

Every deacon prays in the morning when they wake and in the evening before they retire to bed. They often will spend 15 minutes a day reading Scripture and allowing God to respond to them. Each day is met with opportunities to encounter God in prayer and in deeds.

In service, the archbishop sends the deacon out to accomplish the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

The deacon visits prisoners, cares for the sick, dying and abused, feeds the hungry, provides shelter to the homeless,
wipes the tears from the sorrowful, and is a voice of the forgotten and helpless, including the unborn.

In one example, a deacon ministering to single mothers in the archdiocese tells me of the first time a mother handed over her infant son for him to hold. As he blessed the child, the deacon was struck with gratitude as he realized the incredible trust the mother had just turned over to him. It was the first time she had ever allowed her baby to be held by someone else since she had arrived at the home.

In his ministry of the word, the deacon teaches and preaches in his parish assignment and witnesses to
those in secular society. He proclaims the Gospel and occasionally preaches the homily. The deacon often teaches both those entering into the Church and away from the Church; and often instructs those in religious education and Sacramental preparation classes.

Many deacons have extensive expertise in life issues. Some are medical professionals who stand before congressional committees to defend life and meet with any person or group to talk about what happens medically with the diff erent procedures that terminate life. These
deacons also visit with patients and families to help them understand the church’s position on life issues.

No doubt, they have turned a lot of people away from the culture of death through their ministries.

The vast majority of deacons are certified as advocates for annulments which can be a very spiritual experience. One petitioner tells the story of how a deacon assisted her with the annulment process, helped her reconcile her relationship with the church and is a spiritual advisor to her, even today. She would even seek his advice on any potential future spouse and felt he was more of a father figure than a friend. She lives a comfortable life with a beautiful young son and a wonderful husband.

There are a couple of deacons who visit the homeless at Samaritan House. One deacon meets clients in the lunch rooms, eats with them, shares stories and then gathers them together for Bible study. Many of the men are anxious to come back when he is around to get their spiritual nutrition. He himself is a cancer survivor
and is dealing with debilitating disease; yet, his joy is with his friends at the homeless shelter.

In the ministry of the liturgy, the deacon assists at the altar, coordinating the activities of the liturgy and promoting reverence. He also conducts baptisms, marriages and funerals.

At the Mass, the deacon’s right to the altar is because of his participation with the faithful. He is ordained for the care of souls. One deacon prepares for Mass by greeting the Lord in the Adoration chapel and praying for the people at Mass. When he receives the gifts at the off ertory, like all deacons, he recognizes the prayers of those in the congregation and presents them to the celebrant as an offering to God. Yet, the faithful gathered together on Sunday are unaware of the prayers that are being lifted up
to God.

Deacons preach by example. They harmonize their vocational sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders
and model themselves after Jesus.

Many Deacons bond with the couples they have blessed in marriage and further their relationship by being available to them. There is a Deacon who sends a nice anniversary card to all the couples he has blessed and to couples of parents whose children he has baptized. The card often goes beyond a greeting and suggests that they meet and find out what is happening in the lives of the newlyweds
and newly baptized.

Even though we have learned much about deacons in the past 50 years, there is still much to discover and learn about the vocation. With the help of God and the wisdom of Holy Mother Church, the diaconal adventure will be filled with blessings and the grace of the Holy Spirit.