Since Pope Francis has declared 2016 a Jubilee Year of Mercy, I’ll try at least a couple times to write about this theme over the year. Mercy is operative in every healthy and growing church, and this is a good week to bring it up since Pope John Paul II established the tradition of celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
Pope John Paul II had a great devotion to a Polish saint named Faustina who reported having visions of Jesus in which the mercy of God was especially emphasized. Coming between the twin calamities of the First and Second World Wars, it was a powerful message people greatly needed to hear.
We still do. But exactly how? How do we make parishes places of mercy? Here are three strategic decisions we made that put mercy at the center of what we do.
We Start Local
Every zip code is a little different, bringing its own unique challenges or problems. What areas is your local community are hurting? When we at Nativity talk about “Timonium Tim,” we want to know his hurts and hang-ups, what he’s struggling with and where he’s falling and failing today.
But the truth is, many parish ministries are designed to meet the conditions of mercy set years ago. The same people have run the same program the same way since 1975. They cater to a particular family arrangement, ethnicity, primary industry, etc. that has since changed. That’s not a recipe for mercy in 2016. Church leaders don’t set the agenda or the conditions for mercy- we refocus and adapt our strategy to the situation we find in our community.
We Become a Church of Small Groups
Small groups are a potent resource for the mission of mercy. Small groups are not social hour or even simply Bible study. They have a purpose, and weekly engage the practices of mercy. We sometimes call small groups our “pastoral care delivery system.” For us, small groups are about members caring for members, not a professional class of church workers who alone can save the day.
We Make Missions a Priority
By missions, we mean our service and charity at the local, national, and international level. It’s probably what most people think of when they hear “mercy,” but we take a slightly different approach. We talk about our mission partners. This is important because it signifies our approach is not just “one and done” trips, but instead we build ongoing relationships with the people and places we serve.
This weekend is a great weekend to seek mercy, in the Sacrament of Confession, and to extend it.