What’s a Parish Need?

On Friday, I will have been Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Ithaca for ten months.  It has been a busy ten months.  There are all the regular activities that go with a parish, a school, and two cemeteries.  There is also the learning process that goes with me being the “new guy.”  By learning, I mean what goes on at Immaculate.  However, to do the parish justice, it isn’t just about learning what goes on in the parish but why.

We need to understand the history of the ministries and events.  We are part of our world-wide Catholic Church but each parish has its own culture and logistics based on the buildings.  At Immaculate, when I say “culture” I should say “cultures” because we are a diverse parish.  We have parishioners who have lived their entire lives in Ithaca, parishioners from other parts of the United States, and parishioners from Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.  We are in a community with two universities and while both campuses have Mass on campus, the presence of the universities effects who our parishioners are.

When I arrived at Immaculate Conception, I realized that one of the areas that needed help was our school.  It was that in mind that I decided to initiate a strategic planning process for the school.  The main challenge of our school is the same as for many Catholic schools, declining enrollment.  Through the strategic planning process, we are developing goals towards a strong future.  Some of what we need to improve might be obvious.  Through the strategic planning process, we are prioritizing what needs to be done.  Ultimately, it is about developing a vision for the future.

In the year prior to my arrival, the Parish Pastoral Council underwent a process of reviewing the life of the parish and came up with some goals for the current year.  Those goals involve working on needed repairs for our building and a parish survey.  Why a parish survey?  To see how the parishioners believe we are doing.  We did that survey in March and are now reviewing the data.  From this, we hope to develop a plan for the future.  It is a different process than the strategic planning process used for the school but I see a common purpose, developing a vision/goals for the future.   We need to have some idea of where we are going.

We cannot just keep doing the same thing over and over.  The saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t work.  If we keep doing the same ministries and activities year after year, some will survive forever (like celebrating Mass) and some won’t.  We need to read the signs of the times and respond to the needs of our parishes.  I believe this is part of what it means to be a vibrant parish today and into the future.

When I say “read the signs of the times” and write about the parish survey and school strategic planning process, one might think it is about trying to find what makes people happy.  In part, that might be true but I see I much higher purpose at work.  For me, the real purpose is to find out where God is leading us and what God wants us to do.  We ask the people for their thoughts as a group process, knowing that the Holy Spirit works through all of us.  No one person has all the answers.  We need to work together to know God’s Will.

We need to remain connected to God’s Will and our Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church has existed for 2,000 years by God’s guidance.  We need to remain connected to God.  This is nothing new.  Take a look at tomorrow’s readings (April 24, 2013).  In the first reading, we see how Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem after completing their relief mission.  Paul will do this throughout his missionary journeys.

From tomorrow’s Gospel, we need to remember that Jesus is our light and we must remain in the light.  We must remember that Jesus always remained in unity with the Father.

If we are to be a vibrant church in the years to come, we must always remain in unity with God.  It isn’t about making people happy in earthly ways.  We find fulfillment and joy in doing the Father’s Will.

Through prayer and discussion, may we discover where God is leading us and follow Him.


Fr. Jeff

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