Set in the scenic foothills of Maine’s Appalachian Mountains, the story of Parish of the Holy Savior should sound familiar to many American parishes. Booming ethnic immigrant parishes, declining industry and declining population, closures, mergers, and fading identity. Frequent pastor turnover lent little opportunity to form a renewed, cohesive identity out of the disparate churches.
Father Nathan March became the pastor in August of 2016. The previous pastor had stabilized the parish financially and made necessary improvements to the physical infrastructure. “I was moving into a situation that was ready for pastoral initiatives,” Fr. Nathan shares.
Read how Holy Savior used branding as a vehicle for parish change:
Jesus asks a series of questions throughout the Gospels. Over the next few months, we will be exploring these questions with Allan Wright, author of 25 Life-Changing Questions from the Gospels. Allan offers his perspective as a father, speaker, professor, and author. We’ll offer an additional response from a millennial evangelist, LPi’s Digital Content Specialist Anna Carter.
Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15)
There are musical artists I idolized and imitated throughout my adolescence. There was something about their passion that sparked a desire to be like them and I still admire some of these heroes from my youth. It’s exciting to be a fan and to be in the crowd at a concert where everyone is singing the same songs in unison. I knew their rise to fame and bought their records but I must admit that while I knew a lot about these musicians, I didn’t really know them at all outside of their public persona.
Two thousand years after his death and resurrection, Jesus still receives a great deal of attention and usually makes the front cover of a variety of secular magazines before Christmas and Easter. However, Jesus doesn’t desire “fans” or “likes” on social media or people who admire his moral teachings. We read in the Gospel that Jesus takes the initiative and asks a very pointed question to his closest disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15).
As Catholics, our creed reveals the answer of who Jesus is. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord...” Most Catholics can recite the Apostles’ Creed from memory with the same ease as their favorite song from their youth. Yet what Jesus asks for is not a memorized script, but rather a movement of the heart.
Who do you say that Jesus is? Is Jesus Lord at all, if he is not Lord of all? Unlike some of my musical heroes, Jesus will never disappoint those who seek him. He is certainly unpredictable but never unfaithful. He awaits your search.
There’s a ridiculous scene in Talladega Nights, a 2006 Will Ferrell comedy. Ferrell’s character has gathered his stereotypical NASCAR family around the table to say grace. His wife complains about Ferrell’s prayer to “6 lb. 8 oz. baby Jesus” and a debate ensues. Who is Jesus to those at the table? A man with a beard? A ninja? A rock star with an angel band? When I taught high school, I would show this clip to my students to kick off a personal reflection assignment. Who do they say Jesus is?
The reality, of course, is that these reflections can only take us so far. Regardless of our perceptions, Jesus is. God is. He stands apart from what we imagine he is or would like him to be. Peter answers the question accurately and acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God. But, a mere few verses later, Peter is shocked when Jesus doesn’t fit his imagined version of the Messiah.
Theologian Henri de Lubac puts it simply: “God is always more.” When we consider this question, it’s good to reflect on our own relationship with Christ. Are we living as if Christ is Lord of our life? Is he healer? Savior? Companion? Guide? Or is he simply a historical figure who founded a church, but has no real connection to our life?
Whatever our perception, God invites us to more. He invites us ever deeper into the reality of himself. There is always more to discover every time we seek him!
Invitation: Consider who Christ is in your life. Who keeps you accountable in that understanding in your faith journey?
Greetings and salutations! My name is Sr. Helena Burns, FSP. The initials after my name stand for my congregation, the Daughters of St. Paul (in Latin). Founded in 1915 to evangelize with media, the Daughters of St. Paul are obviously very pro-media and pro-technology! Our Founder, Blessed Fr. James Alberione (www.MediaApostle.com), told us to use "the fastest, most modern, most efficacious means to reach the greatest number of people" with the word of God. He gave us the mandate to use every new medium, every new form of communication as soon as it appears on the horizon. In other words, the Daughters of St. Paul are called to be "early adopters." We then learn the particular "language" of each new medium in order to use it to communicate optimally, as our Founder said: "in an appealing, attractive way that people are used to."
In other words, if Catholics truly want to evangelize through media, we must enter the milieu, become a part of it, know it so well, and use it so organically that we can even become shapers of the media culture itself! And not only that, if we believe we have the best message in the world, then our presentation should reflect that. Fr. Alberione used to insist: "the best for the Word of God." And today, not only will young people not look at or listen to our media if it's unattractive and unprofessional—we've just damaged our message in their eyes.
Are some new media forms trends and fads? Certainly, so let's make sure to take advantage of them and ride them out for the Gospel, "become all to all." "All this I do for the sake of the Gospel." But how does what is unchanging (God's revelation) bring about permanence through what is ever-changing and even ephemeral (media trends)? By "taking every thought captive." Ancient truths, new methods.
Blessed James Alberione had this to say about dwelling on only one type of media: "We are not attached to the book. We are attached to the Word of God." A unique property of words is the ability to logically reason things out, to create an argument, to demonstrate truth or falsehood. This makes facility with words indispensable. However, it's absolutely true that certain things can only be communicated in a certain way through the written and spoken word. By the same logic, certain things can only be communicated in a certain way through images. It's no mistake that Jesus is both the Word of the Father and the Image of the Father. So, why can't we have a full skill set? Why can't we be truly "media literate," conversant with words and images?
Today's multifarious new media can be overwhelming, so the evangelizer needs to specialize. Zero in on what you're good at, at what interests you, media formats and content that you will get familiar with from the inside out. Collaborate and network with others who specialize in other media. With regard to technology, graphics, and social media, the Church needs to humbly learn from the young, and, yes, hire the young to help us with media. There's simply too much going on with today's digital media for one (older) person to know. Learn to distrust your own (ancient) sensibilities. Young people today have an innate sense of aesthetics—not just for youth-oriented media, but for all media. They'll keep the Church lookin' classy.
It's important to distinguish times and places for digital media in the Church (and in our personal and family lives)! Media devices do not belong everywhere, 24/7. One such media-device-free zone should be the Mass. Turn phones and tablets (including those belonging to youth and kids) completely off. Better yet, don't even bring them to church. "Faith comes through hearing." Listen to the word of God. Be present. Use a physical missal/hymnal. We are a sacramental people. The sacraments and sacramentals are God working through matter, through concrete reality, not simulated reality that requires another power source. As human beings and Catholics, we are not virtual people (virtual=simulations that are real in appearance and effects only), we are actual people, God's people.
But using digital media in the Church to communicate, teach, preach, build community, evangelize, inform, network, catechize, keep in touch, enlighten, inspire, entertain? Go for it!
Sr. Helena Burns, FSP, is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul. She has an MA in Media Literacy Education; studied screenwriting at UCLA and Act One, Hollywood; and holds a Certificate in Pastoral Youth Ministry. She wrote and directed a documentary on the life of Blessed James Alberione and is a co-producer on The 40 Film. She has written a Theology of the Body curriculum and her daily book for young women is He Speaks to You. She is also a regional vocation directress for the Daughters. Sr. Helena gives Media Literacy and Theology of the Body workshops to youth and adults all over Canada and the US, and believes that media can be a primary tool for sharing God's love and salvation.
I really love hospitality and try never to take it for granted. When someone takes time to create a beautiful environment or greets me with a warm welcome and a smile, I am hooked. My name is Jane Angha, Director of Ministry Blueprints, a little company all about radical hospitality and welcoming in faith communities.
Leading with Beauty
People often think hospitality is a luxury or an option if you have time, money, and volunteers. Others think it is a waste of resources to fuss with hospitality and things such as décor, environment, food, and how the room looks for an event or gathering. They swear it doesn’t matter to most people and that no one will even notice. I beg to differ. Hospitality is an integral part of setting the stage for an encounter with Christ. Leading with beauty touches our hearts, minds, and souls.
Leading with beauty is something Bishop Robert Barron speaks of often. To explain what he means by that, he tells a great story of how he came to love baseball. He is a fanatic baseball fan and points to a moment in his childhood that started his love affair with the game. His dad took him to a night game at Fenway park when he was around seven or eight. Imagine what he saw—the bright lights, the stands filled with fans, the vendors, the mascot, and the players warming up. The smell of popcorn, hotdogs, and peanuts engulfed him. His little heart held the anticipation of his first ball game and the players in the flesh. He fell in love. His obsession with players, stats, history, and play-by-plays grew from that first game, the time he fell head over heels for baseball. Bishop Barron believes this is how we come to our faith. Something beautiful touches our hearts, minds, and souls long before we can articulate doctrine or belief. That leads us to a continued search for more—for meaning, knowledge, experience, and purpose.
The Power of Radical Hospitality
It is that beauty, that incredibly powerful beauty, we find in radical hospitality. Most of us have been to places where we are overcome with the beauty we see. It might be the church on Christmas Eve or the Easter Vigil. It is the flowers, candles, excitement in the air, and anticipation of what is to come that touches us. Perhaps you’ve been to a wedding reception or a party that was so touching it moved you to tears. I recall a mission trip I was on with Catholic Relief Services in the West Bank and Gaza. Families who had lost everything in recent conflicts were offering our little group food and tea and a seat by their fire along with genuine kindness, laughter, and friendship. That is hospitality at its finest and most profound.
Hospitality then is something that doesn’t have to cost, but must be authentic, beautiful, and point to something other than ourselves. For a parish, it is a path to the living God. So that is the foundation of things, the kind of welcome and hospitality we need in our communities to invite new people in and nourish the souls of the parishioners who have been there the longest and serve everyone in between. This radical expression and experience is the responsibility of the whole community. It only works if everyone does it, supports it, and understands it. It’s hard work!
Everyone Is the Welcoming Committee
Parishes often have welcoming committees. Those are fabulous, but they are just a part of what it takes to become a welcoming community. We must be bold and talk about this ethereal thing called hospitality. When we use some of the latest research on who is not at church any given weekend, we see that one reason is that we have forgotten how to welcome like Jesus did. We have become complacent and satisfied with the ordinary. We need to set our hearts on fire, to be moved to more, and to light that fire with radical hospitality.
Just for starters here are a few things to ponder about hospitality:
1. It isn’t frivolous to make your parish beautiful by whatever means you have.
2. It isn’t wasting time or money to invite people to share in a meal or finger food after Masses each weekend.
3. It isn’t irresponsible to have the lights on, doors open, and people milling about waiting to greet and offer a handshake and smile before and after every Mass.
4. It is worth every penny to send invitations to the neighborhood to join you for weekend worship or the parish festival.
5. It’s invaluable to send care packages to your college students during finals to remind them they are loved and remembered.
6. It’s brilliant to ask families to greet and welcome when they are present at events, even if they haven’t signed up to do so.
7. It’s affirming and kind to make sure there is space for young families to be comfortable whenever they are brave enough to bring their children to Mass or parish events.
8. It’s a kindness to teach everyone in the parish to be a “welcomer” and to move over in the pew.
9. It’s a sign of a joyful parish when no one sits alone at coffee and donuts and the first-timers are free!
10. It is a wise community that leads with beauty, is authentic in its care and love, and its joy is visible and palpable.
May beauty touch your heart in some way today and lead you ever deeper on your journey of faith.
Jane Angha is the dreamer behind Ministry Blueprints. Jane has a BS in Education, a master's in Theology and lots of years of experience as a Youth Minister, Director of Faith Formation, trainer, teacher, writer, national conference speaker, wife, and mom.
Vibrant parishes thrive on the generosity of their members. What if managing monetary donations online could be easy and hassle free? Learn more about WeShare, LPi’s convenient, secure tool for online giving.
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Many parishes run increased offertory programs only to find that the increase is temporary. Parishioners fall back to old habits, leaving the parish with no real giving increase. Join us as we review 7 Steps to Fiscal Discipleship that will help your parish build a culture of sustained generosity.
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