Making Church Matter

What is Going On? Part I

August 20, 2012

I was away for most of the weekend for my beautiful cousin Laura’s wedding. Beyond the joy of the event a wedding in my family will provide sermon illustrations for months to come, so it was a wise investment of my time.

One of the many great things about this wedding (a truly great wedding in every way) was getting to know the grooms family.  Like ours they are Catholic (unlike most of ours, they are practicing Catholics).  It was interesting how many of them approached me at the reception to talk about their experience of church.  Here are some of the comments from people who are actually going to church in a variety of places from California to New York:

“I feel so frustrated with my parish”

“I have developed a ‘groan meter’ to gage how offensive my pastor’s comments at Mass will be each week.”

“My husband stopped going a year ago, recently I have stopped asking him, it would only make him hate it more.”

“I sometimes wonder, do the priests want to drive everybody out of the parish?”

“I am barely hanging on.”

“I haven’t been back since the pastor shouted out me…from the Altar.”

“My son’s family is now going to an Evangelical church and I am thrilled.”

These are just a few of the comments I got, of a similar bent. They were completely unsolicited.  None of it was surprising to me, but the consistency and the urgency of the comments was. Things are not going well in many parishes. What is going on?

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  1. The comments are disconcerting though not surprising. There seems to be a theme of powerlessness (even despair) toward doing anything to make it better. I think the average parishioner in these parishes does not know where to start to affect change. Seems like the parish staffs and church leaders could also use some guidance on how to go about appropriately engaging the community.

  2. Looking forward to part 2.

    I’m a 45 year old, divorced father of 3. My 2 daughters and my son are with me just about every Sunday and we make every effort to not just “attend Mass”, but to come and “celebrate” Mass. Nativity, along with your leadership, has made Church something my children look forward to every week. As a proud, life long Catholic, I have strong feelings on the subject of this post and look forward to reading part 2, and I especially look forward to reading your upcoming book!!

  3. The small parish I attend is mired in a similar dilemma; younger families are losing interest and heading to the local Evangelical mega church, or are stopping church involvement all together. For me and my 4 teens, our church seems to have become “dumbed-down.” It is run and over-run by a handful of angry older folks who want things the way they were decades ago. They are angry at us busy families, gays, technological demands and advances, etc etc. They are constantly asking for money which they then go on to mismanage. They want no real help because they are so caught up in the martyr complex. Our priest in unable to find a balance between the past and future, so does nothing. We desperately need new energy and are now finding ourselves unhappy with “church”.

    We’re not looking to be entertained. We just want an intelligent, timely and thought-provoking church community. One that helps us reflect upon the complexities of life in a complicated world. We are intelligent people and know we have choices. Sorry to say, our church is no longer meeting our needs. We go out of duty only and it’s always a fight.

  4. This could probably be answered from a number of angles… But what about a spiritual warfare / intercessory angle?

    If the Church is supposed to a light to the nations to bring people into salvation through Jesus, then the powers of darkness are warring against us.

    For those of us in churches that have serious problems- are we praying every week for our pastors, for the lay ministers, for the congregants to be filled with the Spirit, open to God’s word, a vibrant community? Or are we just grumbling and complaining like the Israelites in the desert?

    My wife and I pray together every Sunday morning as we take the brief drive to our church for the above intentions. I’m hoping (and know in the deepest part of me) that God, our Father, hears me and is moving in hearts and minds.

    He is also my heart and mind to change. He is urging me to make a little difference where I am… to reach out to someone new – even if nobody else does that – to sing with a whole heart, even with my hands raised and eyes closed at times – even if nobody else does that.

    Maybe this is part of the bottom-up answer, and part of the answer is needs to come top-down…

    Either way a really important blog post. Thank you Fr. Michael. We do need to be intentional about changing the culture in Catholic parishes to truly reflect the wonderful grace and good news of the Gospel.

  5. This is an important conversation and I am appreciating all of the points of view here! Susie, your experience sounds very much like my parish, we are working to affect change and, happily it is coming, slowly but certainly coming, don’t give up.

    Pete, agree we need to pray on this for support and guidance and then also be prepared to take actions.

    Fr Michael (not sure if you use the title) I am also looking forward to your book and hopefully benefiting from the best practices you have established and adopted. Appreciate if you can point me toward any useful information that we can look at in the interim, Thanks and God bless your work!

  6. I have been coming to Church of the Nativity for 1 1/2 years now, coming from Immaculate Conception Church, and I look forward to mass every single Sunday at 5:30. I never leave there without feeling uplifted and inspired. I also do all the readings each week and look forward to doing that as well. I wish Nativity had been a part of my of life sooner.

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