PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish

_______________________________________________________________________                                                                                                                            November, 2022

A Gem Of A Parish

              The leadership of St. James Parish in Eau Claire, Wisconsin participated in a PEP Leadership Retreat consisting of an afternoon of reflection for the pastor, a full day of prayer and interaction for the staff on Friday, and a similar day for members of the parish leadership on Saturday.  While conducting the retreat days and presiding at the weekend liturgies, I became aware that this was no ordinary parish.  The blend of a warm and inviting pastor, an enthusiastic and creative staff, a group of dedicated and committed lay leaders and a community of welcoming and openness all worked together to create a sense of church well beyond the ordinary. 

What Is Happening

              While visiting the parish I had the opportunity to interview the pastor and a few others on staff and in leadership positions.  A staff member mentioned, “The parish was very active before the current pastor arrived.  People in the back pews sing out.  That doesn’t happen in a typical parish.  Long-time members say we have always been a singing parish.  The parish motto is ‘All Are Welcome’ and people really take this to heart.  Many people make a point of connecting with strangers and newcomers before the Mass begins.  It’s not just the pastor doing this.  And when people join the parish, they follow the example of long-time members and become active as well.  This feeds on itself in the best way possible. The previous pastor was very justice-minded, so the parishioners became justice-minded as well.  This tradition continued when there was a change in pastors a number of years ago.  One current problem is that we have such a wide variety of ministries that we do not have the room to accommodate them all; a nice problem to have.  Also, we have a great staff who feel blessed to be able to work at St. James.  It is important to have people who are enthusiastic about the parish;  the staff and lay leaders certainly are, and the parishioners see this and follow suit.”

              A second person interviewed was a member of the Parish Council of Catholic Women (PCCW) and is very active in the parish.  She began by saying, “There is a lot of positive energy here.  It began with the previous pastor who was very energetic and got things started.  It has continued to grow with our current pastor and with all of the young people who show up and want to keep it going.  We have three groups that work at the homeless shelter, as well as a new group that deals with environmental issues.  This is called, ‘Caring For Our Common Home.’  Everything we are doing now will be for naught if we don’t address climate change.  The parish is working on a master plan at the present time.”

              The third was a former member of the staff.  She remarked that when she first arrived at St. James a number of years ago, she could not believe what she found.  “People were so kind and hospitable.  All those who come, the parishioners accept them.  There is socializing with refreshments after every weekend Mass, including the Saturday evening Mass.  It now includes a light supper to which people bring pizza, tacos, barbeques and the like.  When anyone is in trouble, has a need or experienced a death in the family, the community is very supportive.  The key ingredients of the parish are hospitality, community, supporting people through difficult times, creativity, open-mindedness, wonderful liturgies and strong singing.”

              The pastor remarked, “The parish was already warm and welcoming before I came, as well as down-to-earth and unpretentious.  One Advent everyone got a tree ornament with a little mirror as a way of looking at oneself and considering how to grow spiritually.  There is an emphasis on helping people grow in relationship with God and with one another.  We have a Grief Support Group which got started on its own.  Little of this had to do with me.  That’s just one example of how the people are taking initiative at St. James Parish.”