November, 2016

On A Mission

Recently we visited St. Anthony on the Lake Parish in Pewaukee, WI. This banner was displayed on the wall in the Gathering Space as people

came into and out of Mass. The three words shaped their identity as a parish. They came alive as people reflected on the meaning of each word and

put them into operation in parish ministries and in their personal lives. Many parishes now realize that a mission statement is not nearly as

important as a few core words that move parishioners into prayerful reflection and creative action. For example, Welcoming, Celebrating,

Empowering, and Serving shape St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Bay City, MI, while Invite, Celebrate, Transform and Serve sum up the core

values and mission of Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown, DC.

Keeping the Words Alive

It is the Pastoral Council’s role, along with consultation from other leadership groups, to settle on the key words that define the purpose and unique identity of the parish. It is up to the various ministries of the parish and the parishioners themselves to put flesh on the words. Using the key words on the banner above, those planning the weekend liturgies might explore how “LIVE the Gospel of Jesus Christ” could be the theme for the Masses, encouraging the people to COMMIT to regular periods of prayer each day and to reflect on concrete ways to SERVE others over the coming week. In a similar way, those directing adult faith enrichment programs might offer a Live-Commit-Serve series of talks, videos and group interaction directed to drawing people into a life of faith that includes a commitment to go deeper into the scriptures and a firm resolve to put their faith into action through serving others.

Great Catholic Parishes

This is the title of a new book by William E. Simon, Jr., based on information gathered from 244 pastors and parishes around the country. It

focuses on best practices regarding lay leadership, inviting liturgies, forming disciples, and looking outward rather than inward as a parish

community. Bill Simon describes this last emphasis as a shift from maintenance to mission. He calls it, “From Mirrors to Windows.” As he

explains, “‘Mirror people’ look at the glass and see only themselves. In contrast, ‘window people’ can look through the glass and see others. . . .

They see the needs of the world and make room in their lives to provide for others.” (Great Catholic Parishes, Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, p.


To achieve this movement from inward to outward, the other three themes of his book come into play. Developing lay leadership comes first. No

longer can the pastor, nor even the staff, handle this shift. It belongs to those parishioners who step up and contribute their talents and enthusiasm

toward the realization of a community on mission. Bill Simon writes, “Lay involvement has had a domino effect in parishes. Pastors have watched

staff members empower volunteers to become leaders themselves, eventually taking on special projects and programs in the parish. Over time,

parishes form a tradition of lay involvement. . . parishioners become accustomed to getting involved and exercising leadership.” (p. 26-27)


Inviting, meaningful liturgies also play a large role in changing the vision from a mirror to a window. It takes concentrated planning that starts

long before the weekend Masses and continues afterwards by assessing the worship experience, seeing it not just from the perspective of the

liturgical ministers, but from those in the congregation. As Bill Simon put it, “We are beginning to understand that it takes a whole lot more than a

friendly greeter at the door.” (p. 101) It means inviting everyone into an experience of not just listening to, but Living out the Gospel of Jesus

Christ, not just mouthing responses, but being Committed to life-long faith learning, not just making a donation, but stepping up and Serving any

individual or group that is in need.


Tom Sweetser, SJ, Debora Elkins, Jessamyn Amezquita