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Opportunity For Learning

We all need keep learning throughout our lives.  Learning about faith doesn’t end with Confirmation or when religion classes end.  I have a master’s degree in theology and I feel like I just know the tip of the iceberg of what our faith has to offer.  With that in mind I attended day one of our diocesan “Households of Faith” annual conference.

I went to three different workshops.  The first one was not actually part of the conference.  It was a meeting of pastoral leaders like myself in relatively new assignments.  It is part of a two-year leadership process I have been part of since I became a pastor.  This particular workshop helped us explore ways to seek feedback from staff and parishioners on how I am doing in my leadership role as a pastor.

The second workshop I attended was on evangelizing families given by Dr. Jo Ann Paradise.  One of the points presented in this talk was on the importance of questions.  The first part of this is knowing what questions to ask, not just questions testing facts but questions that make people think like “What do you think the Pharisees thought when Jesus said…..”  The second part of “questions” was that evangelization isn’t about asking questions (as teachers) that we have answers to.  We need to ask questions that lead people to open their hearts to Jesus leading to a deeper relationship with Jesus.  I look at the importance of questions another way when I give a presentation.  I believe that when people ask questions when I give a presentation, it means that what I have talked about means something to them.  When nobody asks a question, it might be because I did a really good presentation that answered all their questions but more likely is that it didn’t touch their hearts in a new way that evangelized them.

The third presentation (and keynote address) was given by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, authors of the book Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making the Church Matter.  They spoke of the story of how they turned the parish around where they served in Maryland.  Discussion points included reasons why people don’t come to church, number of programs, and what it means to be church, all of which can be found in their book.  There was discussion about what we have “to compete with” such as sports, work, and leisure to get people to come to church.  There is no doubt that these things are drawing people away from church.  Why?  Because they feel they get more out of them than they do out of coming to church.

We might often ask the question “Why don’t people come to church?” when really maybe the question they have is “Why should I come to church?”  Translation – we have to make church a place people want to beTHIS DOES NOT MEAN CATERING TO THEIR BELIEFS!  We need to hold fast to the teachings of Jesus, even when it isn’t what people want to hear.  What I do mean is that we need to make church a place where people feel welcome.  We need to be a church where people care about each other.  We need homilies that are relevant to people’s lives.  People will come to church when they feel it makes a difference in their lives.

Sometimes, we think we need to offer more “programs” to draw people in but if we aren’t making the Sunday Mass a place they want to be, why would we expect them to come to anything else? It all starts with Sunday Mass.

What can you do to help make our church a place people want to be?  Have you ever talked to the family sitting next to you in church?  Being welcoming might just start with saying “hello” and asking “how they are doing.”  It might be thinking about how you react when their little child starts to cry?  Is it distracting and annoying when the child cries?  It certainly can be but there is another way to look at it.  I want to see the little children in church.  Why?  Because if there are no little children in the church then there is no hope for the future.  We need to remember a child only cries when they need something. Sometimes families with little children who cry or other another annoyances in church stop coming because they feel unwelcome.  Some of these might say they will start coming again when the children are older and behave better.  Some of them never come back.  The only way the children are going to learn how to behave in church is to come.  I want to see the children in church and so does Jesus.

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.  Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.   Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

One Comment

  1. Donna Calk says:

    I loved the statement you made about not catering to people’s beliefs in order to fill the pews. Jesus taught very hard things without compromise. So many churches water down God’s Word in order to please people, but I don’t believe it pleases God.Thank you for the courage it takes to follow His example!

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