I just returned this evening from a short time to New York City. Yesterday I attended an all-day meeting of PCNY (the Priests’ Council of New York). We hold quarterly meetings with priests representing all the diocese of New York State. We come together to discuss the common challenges we face. This month one of the main challenges that came up for discussion is “reconfiguration” and what it means to be church.
We are very much used to thinking of our Catholic identity as determined solely by the church we attend. As parish boundaries are reconfigured, we are called to think about what it means to be “church” and how we can best do this. Often, the closing or combining of parishes is seen as based on two things. The first one is what everyone things of – the declining number of priests. The second is the declining number of people who come to church. If there aren’t enough people coming to church, doesn’t working with neighboring Catholic churches make sense?
What we are really getting at here is being good stewards. How do we make the best use of our resources? What are the resources we need to look at? People are our biggest resource through their gifts of time and talent. Sometimes the best way to be church involves sharing our people. One little church may not be able to hire a well-trained person as a director of religious education or to do pastoral visitations. However, several churches working together might be able to draw a better person who then can work with the volunteers in each church (who are essential to our being able to serve God’s people).
Evaluating our resources also includes finances and buildings. Buildings cost money so we must ask ourselves are we being good stewards if we keep open (and maintain) more buildings than we need. This isn’t just a question of church buildings. What do we do with our old school buildings or covenants. Do we use them at all or do we keep them but only use a tiny portion of the space?
The question is not what do we cut just make the budget balance? The proper question is how we make the best use of what God has given us to serve his people. If we become the best church that we can be, then more people will come and with more people comes more resources of time, talent, and treasure.
When you hear the word “church,” what do you think of? A building, the priest, the people, a school, or a Catholic hospital. How about a community of believers? Buildings shape who we are but community and ministry is what we are about, leading all people to become part of God’s family (a community).