This week we are in Austria for a Rebuilt Conference. We love our friends and partners here and greatly enjoy working with parishes in this beautiful country.
Today we took the morning to visit one of the most popular tourist attractions here, the Schonbrunn Palace, the home of the Hapsburg monarchs and their family. It is a breathtakingly beautiful place.
It is also an object lesson in leadership. Built in stages over centuries, it was alternately a quiet retreat, hunting lodge, summer palace, and eventually principle and preferred residence for the Emperor. It is not in Vienna, it’s outside Vienna, well outside. It’s safely outside, a cocoon of privilege and pleasure intended to be completely removed from the realities of the rest of the capital. A strange way to rule for sure, but not unknown in European history. The Russian Tsars did the same thing at Tsarskoye-Selo, their palace complex outside St. Petersburg, and, of course, the French kings did it at Versailles. These dynasties all have something else in common. None of them exist today.
As I was touring the splendid spaces of Schonbrunn, I couldn’t help but think of many churches I have visited. Beautiful, sometimes exquisitely beautiful buildings designed for the edification and inspiration of the people in the pews. And carefully isolated from the community around them. And some of the parish staff I’ve met serve just like museum curators, or palace retainers, seeking to serve pampered parishioners.
That’s not leadership and it’s not what we’re suppose to be doing in our church.
Healthy, growing parishes, need to know their neighborhoods, they need to be a part of the life of the community and actively involved in the transformation of their communities.
Otherwise, however beautiful our churches, we’re doomed for disappointment, as the Hapsburg’s learned a long time ago.