Parish Newsletter

A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

 

June, 2014

A Creative Response Pope Francis is putting a new face on the Church and those who have withdrawn are taking notice.  He has encouraged Church leaders to be more inclusive and accepting of those alienated from the institution.  On the local level, the pope has asked pastors, staffs and leaders to be creative.  “The parish is not an outdated institution” he wrote, “precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and creativity of the pastor and the community.” (Joy of the Gospel, #28).  One new pastor has responded to this challenge.  When he arrived in the parish, he learned that all was not well.  “When people speak up,” he noted, “there usually is something there.”  He discovered that seasoned parishioners were pulling away from the parish and were no longer attending.  To stop the hemorrhaging and invite the alienated back, he initiated what he called Project Re-Connect. A Simple Approach He began by soliciting from the staff the names of individuals who had been active in their ministries – liturgy, music, faith formation or outreach – but were no longer involved.  The same appeal was made to the pastoral council and other leadership groups.  The result was a list of absent parish volunteers and ministers.  The next step was to invite these people back to the parish to discuss their individual “grievances,” perhaps over coffee or a glass of wine.  “We placed in the parish bulletin,” the pastor recounted, “a request that ran on Easter and the few weeks both before and after that feast.”   The Invitation The bulletin notice stated: “Over the past few years, some parishioners and our friends have chosen to leave the parish community to worship and receive spiritual nourishment elsewhere. We understand there are many motives for these decisions – parking, convenience, quality of services, personal reasons and experiences. We miss our friends. We would like to reach out to those who have left the parish and invite them back. Should you know of any of these former parishioners among your family or friends, please let us know.” It concluded with information about who to contact, along with their phone numbers and emails.   Personal Contact “The next step,” the pastor said, “was to pick up the phone and start calling former parishioners.  The response was stellar.” Besides being impressed that the new pastor would care enough to call them, people affirmed their love for the parish and admitted missing being part of it.  One experience the pastor had in making calls was a voice message left on the Sunday before Palm Sunday to a long-time liturgical minister, telling him to call back.  The following Monday an email from his wife described their mutual glee in being invited back, along with the assurance that both would be there to assist on Palm Sunday if needed.  Their comment: “We feel at home again.”  Another person who returned after receiving the pastor’s call mentioned, “Yes, things are changing.  This is truly my parish again.  I am back in my favorite pew.”   “The Project Re-Connect will continue at least until the end of the year,” the new pastor affirmed. “It is my hope that the celebration of our upcoming anniversary will find the parish imbued with a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything around it.  Our parish must become a place, as Pope Francis put it, ‘for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.’”