A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about a friend of mine who felt like he was languishing in his parish: it was boring and bad and the pastor was sort of grumpy. He’s searched for another parish, but with no success.
And then he ran across this incredibly vibrant and joyous church that he started attending instead. He found himself looking forward to church each week, instead of dreading it. He came to really value the energy and spirit it gave him. He really felt “fed” by the message. He started meeting young people his own age who share his values, he was invited to join a small group and found himself growing in his faith for the first time in a long time. Of course his new church isn’t Catholic.
When I posted this piece, I received a lot of comments, a few of which we shared. Interestingly, not everyone was sympathetic to the young man’s position. I am. Even more so, after my conversation with him last Sunday.
He was home visiting family and came to Mass. Afterwards we talked. It seems he had been feeling a twinge of Catholic guilt for skipping Mass, so the previous Sunday he finally went back to his parish. It was just as boring and bad as ever, but then it got worse, far worse. This is a true story.
At the homily time, the pastor let everyone know how concerned and angry he is with the continuing decline in attendance. So concerned is he, in fact, that he has formed a “secret committee” whose job it will be to start tracking attendance. No one will know who is on the committee, that way they can surreptitiously keep record of who is there and who is not each week. Repeat offenders will be called out with a letter of reprimand from the pastor himself. And if they do not mend their ways, they will be removed from the parish registry and unwelcome to return.
That is so counterproductive, so wrong, so against everything Jesus taught us about being church, I wouldn’t even know where to begin unpacking it. But it does raise a wider question: why do so many pastors and parish leaders try to make people go to church? Why don’t they do their job and make church better?
I told my friend to stay away from the place.