This is not a secret but most people don’t know the whole truth:

The American Catholic Church has some internal crumbling going on.

Daily media constantly highlights the most visible issues like the sexual abuse scandal, church leaders intervening in politics, dioceses settling lawsuits and filing bankruptcy and even how the fluctuating economy has affected charitable contributions.  Just below the surface are two more significant concerns:  the severe decline of new vocations to priesthood and the mass exodus of Catholics leaving the church.

A little while back, there was a listening session in our parish for the people to share ideas about what to do in case their parish would be priest-less in the future.  A lot of passionate discussion ensued and ideas were put forth.  This happened in parishes all over the diocese and suggestions were compiled into a single list that would be the focus of the second round of meetings on the topic.

Two nights ago, that next round of listening sessions happened… although this time only priests, deacons and some parish staff were invited.  (I wasn’t there so my account is secondhand.)  When I saw the list of “Initial Recommendations” (which was supposedly the combined ideas of people in all the parishes around the state) I was stunned.

Why didn’t you include the roles of lay people?

On the list were 21 recommendations… 2 to build new churches… and 19 to either combine parishes or eliminate a priest at an existing parish.

What stunned me was that there was not one iota of a thought about the roles of lay people… stepping into leadership and ministry roles / filling the workload gaps of tired priests / acting like the disciples that they want to be.  Even more disheartening was that many such suggestions were offered at my parish… and I know people around the state who would have also put these ideas on the list.  Where were they?

Meeting attendees were asked how they felt about the recommendations… one priest said, “It makes me tired just looking at this…”  A deacon reiterated that the only solution was to somehow get more vocations to the priesthood.  Several sentiments related to “This is too overwhelming” were added.

Evidently, there was some talk about getting back to the ways of the early church when everyone played a significant role… which I found hugely ironic given that the opening prayer of the meeting was just that:

All who believed were together and had all things in common… Every day they devoted themselves to the meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.  They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.  And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

Can you say * [ D i s c o n n e c t ] * between opening prayer and Initial Recommendations?

The people are the reason why the church exists in the first place.

Was it lost on the larger group?  The people are the reason why priests and deacons are needed at all.  If you don’t include the people in any aspect of your thinking, you’re going to be standing alone in your church building… which we can see from the data is not going to be long in the making.  Today:  22% of Catholics attend Mass weekly.

Unless you revise your list of “Initial Recommendations” you’re really not going to have to worry too much… the pews are gonna get emptier by the week.

Tomorrow:  How to Create a New Model for Parish Leadership.  Stay tuned.

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About Elaine Menardi

Heading off on a new adventure! I solve problems and make ideas happen.

13 responses »

  1. Rox says:

    We are the church and if they don’t need us we will continue elsewhere. While the church struggles with enough (man)power it continues its effort for control and easily dismisses the work on the level of the people, work with the poor, work for peace, work to expand our understanding of our connection to the universe and the church casts aside the likes of Sister Margaret McBride, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Fr. John Dear, Fr. James St. George, Sr. Elizabeth A Johnson, etc. It is so disappointing.

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/on-the-road-to-peace

  2. Yes… we are the church. Obviously some priests get it. But I am not hopeful for our locals.

    Perhaps the wise adage is true: You have to hit rock-bottom before you’re willing to change.

    I am homesick for my church… like so many others I know. Let us persevere like Fr. John Dear encourages in his final New Mexico homily.

    Inspiration for your day 🙂

    Elaine

  3. Rox says:

    a thought from Richard Rohr
    CHURCH AS PERMACULTURE

    The American Church has not usually sought out regenerative solutions where the sustainability is on-site and natural. I am not negating other wonderful priests who come to help us, but our churches are more and more run by priests from other countries. For the most part they know little about American culture or church. (When we send Franciscan missionaries to other countries they have to spend a long time learning to understand and respect that culture. Normally it has to be a movement in downward mobility, not a huge leap in upward mobility, or they would hardly be missionaries at all.)

    If a church cannot produce its own ministers, one might call into question whether we are an organic or vibrant church at all. If we have to bring in people from other countries to sustain a two-hundred-year-old church, we might ask ourselves if we even possess the gifts we need for our own spiritual survival. We are an unsustainable church, rather than a “permaculture” church.

    Adapted from Emerging Church Conference, Swannick, England, 2010

  4. An unsustainable church… ouch! The truth hurts I’m afraid.

  5. Michael says:

    in the film: “There Be Dragons”, character alludes to the role of more laity in times of war.

    in the film: “Priest”, in times of war, we need every soldier we’ve got.

    in the children’s novel “Chronicles of Cain: The Red Pyramid”, bereaving children who are eugenically selected for their psychic predispositions are persuaded to willingly allow Egyptian dieties (i.e., Isis, Horus) to possess them.

    Demonic possessions are on the increase.

    Philosophers are screaming-

    http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2011/01/kreeft-the-winning-strategy/

  6. The people are the reason the church exists in the first place. They need to own it.

    Thanks Michael.

    Peace.

  7. Geoffrey Summerill says:

    RE: POst from ROX – I realize this is old news now, but things are coming to light regarding Jim St. George that must be discussed. What is this so-called “Old Catholic Church” putting in collars these days??

    From “Thomas Q,” on the “First Things” blog, we learn the following in a set of questions directed to a Philadelphia Daily News reporter:

    Thomas Q says: Since Philly.com won’t post my comments about this story, I was wondering whether Ms. P [the Daily News reporter] will answer a couple of questions I have about her involvement with Jim St. George:
    1. When did you find out that he is a convicted felon?
    2. When did you find out that he was fired by Albert Einstein for impersonating a Roman Catholic priest?
    3. When did you find out that he was fired by Lehigh Valley Hospital for impersonating a Roman Catholic priest?
    4. When did you find out that your column about St. George “concelebrating” the Cassidy Mass with the “permission” of Rigali was predicated on a complete and utter lie?
    5. When did you find out that Jim St. George stole over a million dollars from people who invested in his casket business?
    6. When did you find out that he was dishonorably discharged from the Navy?
    7. Ask him about why he was expelled from the Episcopal seminary (Virginia Theological). It involves forgery….Or did you know that back story already? It’s quite something…
    8. Do you know about all of his bankruptcies?
    9. What is it like to be played by a 21st century version of a snake oil salesman?
    You see … the reason he “settled” with CHC is that he didn’t want to answer questions about these things…for good reason.
    =========================================
    Believe it or not, one of this “priest’s” lesser know “tag lines” is: “You can’t con a con man.”

    NOW, I know what it means!!

  8. So Geoffrey… I assume you’re falling on the side: They’ll never get it.

    Fool me once.. shame on you.
    Fool me twice… shame on me.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Peace.

    • Geoffrey Summerill says:

      “….falling on the side: They’ll never get it”

      Yes …. solidly. How can these people presume to be our “go-betweens” with God if they are so far from keeping their own house in order? As you have so sagely said, they do not actually SEE us as part of the church because we are, to the majority of them, too “unclean,” too awash with “original sin” to, for example, merit even having a foot washed on Maundy Thursday.

      Somewhere in my yellowing college lit book lies a poem which includes the line: “If gold rusts, what will iron do? Rusting gold is my reason for posting all that above. This man presumes to forgive MY sins???

      G.S.

  9. Donna says:

    This is a perfect example of “We do not see the world as it is, we see it as we are” The Priests and thier monarchy only see this issue from their vantage point and I think they are focused on the GOLD box in the sanctuary and not the larger portion of the church.

    Jesus said to ALL of us if you are called to lead you will be called to serve (not each other as Priests) but serve each other meaning the church made up of all the others…

  10. Joan says:

    We are here at this time for a reason. Is it up to us to forge a path, to make our church inclusive? There is so much disconnect, frustration, isolation, and dispair. We recognize, as people of God,we are the church. There is much talk, but what is the action?

  11. […] Empower lay people in ministry.  (Read how that got translated… click here) […]

  12. […] At the time, we’d just had a listening session at my parish to solicit ideas about how to staff parishes-without-pastors.  The crisis is imminent… there are fewer and fewer priests.  All of us lay people thought they really wanted our ideas.  We were skeptical, but initially hopeful.  Several months later when all of the input was synthesized, we realized it was just a ploy.  Read:  Will Catholic Priests Ever Get It? […]

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