Making Church Matter

Avalon Journal, Part II: The Church’s Cultural Problems

July 16, 2011

Today is Saturday and that means I have to go to church again.  I could go tomorrow, but that is just prolonging the pain.  I’ll go to the 5pm Saturday Mass today and get it over with. That’s what people do, don’t they? They go to get it over with.  Why? Obligation, guilt, habit, concern about appearances.  Maybe some people just want communion. Doubtless there are people who seek to honor God, even if its not very inspiring or uplifting. I go for all these reasons, oddly. And also because it provides valuable material for blogging.


I have recently been reading the business blogger and author Seth Godin. I liked this quote:

The organizations that need innovation the most
are the ones that do the most to stop it from happening.

My whole experience of the parish here in Avalon underscores everything we are discussing in “the book.”  Did I mention, Tom and I are writing a book?  Actually we’re currently completing the project and my time here is all about getting it done without a lot of distractions. I suppose the experience of the local church here isn’t a distraction thought, its a reminder of why we’re writing.

The book is about the “culture” of churches.  Culture is the sum total of behavior and belief. Its like the atmosphere around us, we hardly even notice it, but it influences everything. We make the proposition in the book that the biggest problem in churchworld today isn’t really any of the problems we hear about all the time that everybody argues about. The biggest problem is exactly the one I’ll encounter this afternoon at the 5pm Saturday “get it over with” Mass. And everyone will come (late) and then they’ll leave (early) and they won’t even recognize that there’s a problem. And that’s because the problem is a cultural one, and everybody inside it can’t even see it.

If I was going to Mass at Nativity instead of Avalon, my experience would be very different to be sure, and the differences would be easy to list. But the real difference, and this is what casual visitors to our place usually miss, isn’t in any of those details. The real difference is in the culture. Our book is about our experience of changing the culture in a Catholic parish. The exercise is about innovation in an organization adverse to innovation but profoundly in need of it.

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  1. Good luck with your book! I'm actually looking forward to tonight's mass. I think what I look most forward to is your music and your message since it's unlike any other typical Catholic church. I won't be leaving early 🙂

  2. I look forward to reading the finished product. It will be interesting to see whether the book can capture in words what I experience interiorly when attending Nativity. I found it unique on my first visit, and subsequent weekly visits did not disappoint. The really wonderful thing is that it has staying power throughout the rest of the week. Thank you for the careful preparation and attention to detail that you and your staff undertake to make Mass at Nativity a true spiritual experience.

  3. I agree with everything you are saying, but I can't help but to be disturbed by the blanket criticims. It seems to me that your success speaks for itself and that you should be trying to bring others into the fold rather than alienating them. My father went to daily mass every day of his life at a church with precisely the kind of priest you describe and his internal spiritual experience was every bit as profound as what I experience at Nativity. I realize the intent is good, but your last two posts have seemed a bit mean-spirited and hurtful. I can't imagine that there are not some things that the little parish in Avalon does better than Nativity and I am sure there are some folks there who, like my father, have a deep and profound faith expressed very differently than you or I would express it.

  4. Yes, obligation. Does boredom free us from this? Strange that you say
    some may go to Mass just for the communion. Is not the Body and Blood
    of Christ the difference between the Catholic Mass and any other religious
    service?

  5. You really do have a strong handle on things as they are. I pray that the vision “as it should be” continues to remain faithful to the vision of Jesus!

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