Making Church Matter

What is Going On? Part II

August 23, 2012

Currently I am asking the question, “What is going on?” as in, what is going on in churchworld?

A sampling of some of what prompts the question.

In a certain region of one diocese four very different parishes have suddenly been merged into one. Aside from the grief and pain of losing their own parishes, no one really knows how this new arrangement is going to work. Even the people on the inside don’t know. Everybody is just holding on, wondering how these diverse parishes will form a community and who they will be as a community.

I know a parish where the largest weekend Mass (by far) is the “quiet” early morning Mass. Besides no music there is no homily. The pastor boasts that if you come to the 7am Mass you’ll be own your way home by 7:20 “or your money back.” He is a very popular figure.

A Catholic hospital just up the road from us has, in recent years, experienced some problems leading to financial instability. So much so, that their trustees recently agreed to the sale of the hospital to a large private health care system.  They are now in the process of trying to figure out what it means to remain Catholic in a non-Catholic system.

A friend of mine was telling me about her parish in an affluent neighborhood in the northeast.  The lovely church sits on a beautiful campus just across the street from a country club…it looks like its part of the country club.  Only problem with this club: there’s nobody there.  It seems the pastor is a deeply unpopular and polarizing figure. Over the course of about 30 years he has effectively driven away more or less everyone, besides a small circle of ardent loyalists. In this town, virtually no Catholics actually go to church. The place is beautiful, but an empty shell.

There is a community of nuns who, several years ago, sold off their sprawling motherhouse complex and grounds. They no longer needed it, but they did need the money. With the proceeds, they built a much smaller headquarters and used the rest of the money for the care of retired sisters.  Now, they have so dramatically diminished in numbers that they no longer need, nor can they afford (so I understand) the new headquarters, which they are in the process of selling. The remaining sisters will be decamping to apartments. What community life looks like after that, no one knows.

A front-page article in the New York Times this week highlighted a parish school in Manhattan. To survive, they are retooling themselves for a wealthier market; the pastor’s proclaimed goal is to beat the private schools at their own game.  Meanwhile 45 schools have been shuttered in the New York Archdiocese in the past 5 years.

A congregation in the southwest was renovating their church.

Eventually the project led to conflict, sides were formed and battle lines drawn.  The defining element of the conflict?  The color of the carpet.  The fight became so acrimonious and brutal that the project was abandoned and many left the parish.  So many, in fact, that more recently the place was closed and the property sold.  It is now a bar.  A gay bar.

It seems as a community of faith, a religious organization or however you want to collectively describe Catholic church life in America, we have crossed some line in the sand, stepped over a significant threshold and now find ourselves in a different place. Sometimes, it seems everywhere churchworld is different than it was. We are in a strange new place. What is our mission and direction?  Where are we? What is going on?

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