Help on hand for collapsing parishes

The parish system as we know it is going to collapse, Father James Mallon told a meeting in Paris.

“The quicker we accept it, the sooner we will be able to develop something new.”

Organized by Alpha, an initiative founded in London to evangelize through a series of talks and discussions in churches, homes, prisons and other settings, the meeting drew 800 people, including 150 priests.

Mallon, a Canadian parish priest who specialises in “pastoral transformation,” offers a simple formula.

The formula requires inverting the current process in the “secularised West”.

This means instead of people already familiar with the faith and Catholic way of life being the ones involved in the parish, people should firstly be welcomed and then allowed to discover the faith at a second stage.

Mallon says this reversal should lead to an end of the “managing decline” approach in favour of evangelisation.

“If the structure is more important than the mission, we will never get anywhere,” he argues.

“Priest friends, have you already tried to change Mass times?” he asked at the meeting, to highlight the experience of many parishes.

“It hurts a bit but that is actually the way I have been working for years,” one participant who works with parish media admitted.

“It’s definitely quite jarring,” a director of pastoral formation and transformation with Alpha says.

“Change in a parish can be painful,” she noted.

“In any event, it supposes agreeing to make oneself vulnerable for the short term.”

Mallon’s method was welcomed by participants seeking renewal in the context of a Church in crisis.

“I have just finished the book … “In the Closet of the Vatican, Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy” by Frédéric Martel, who has despaired of the Church,” a parish priest said.

“But what I have heard here this morning offers hope.”

Some of the parishes which have already started the process of transformation shared their experience, confirming the overall enthusiasm, without denying the difficulties.

Many priests also readily admitted their own resistance to change.

“The primary limiting factor was me,” one priest said.

“The day when parishioners asked me to allow lay people to facilitate Alpha evenings, I asked myself, what will happen if I no longer facilitate myself?”

Mallon, who is the author of an internationally successful book, “Divine Renovation Guidebook: A step-by-step manual for transforming your parish,” says lay people are gradually becoming more open.

One lay member of the audience, a catechumenate leader, changed his views after hosting an Alpha evening at his house.

“It will certainly take time to find out whether this will really enable us to attract new people to the Church,” he said.

“But the new dynamic is already present in people’s minds.”

Realistically, participants are not expecting any miracles.

Nevertheless, the success of Mallon’s meeting suggests Catholics are open to change, even if this causes discomfort to those who are most reticent.




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