Running parishes at higher capacities

If the “engine” of a parish involves mobilising the laity and harvesting their gifts, running parishes at higher capacities would be the norm.

At present, the engine running parishes is running low –  at about five per cent capacity.

That’s what Canada’s Fr James Mallon, author of “Divine Renovation — From Maintenance to a Missional Church” and member of the Global Catholic Alpha Board, told around 100 participants at October’s Divine Renovation (DR) Aotearoa conference.

At the Hamilton diocese-facilitated Zoom conference, Mallon challenged listeners to dream big – to imagine a parish were running at 60 per cent engine capacity or better.

The ability to unleash the full potential in the Church is found in the People of God, but it doesn’t often happen Mallon said.

He then set out a broad overview of the DR framework for turning parishes from “maintenance” to mission. Now operating in 75 countries, Mallon introduced DR to New Zealand at a national priests’ assembly in 2018.

DR is not a programme, but a model of parish operation, he said. It is a concrete way of implementing Pope Francis’s vision for his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

“Some of our best churches do a really good job of saying to people on the outside, you can come in, whereas really what we need to do to be a missionary church is, we have to say to people on the inside, you should go out.”

If a parish adopts a missionary posture and allows it to be normalised into its culture, eventually that parish’s identity is transformed and becomes a missionary.

Mallon said the three “keys” for Divine Renovation are represented in its new logo.

The first is being open to and utilizing the power of the Holy Spirit.

The second is the “primacy” of evangelization. Mallon said for many parishes, if they address evangelisation at all, they “mush it together with catechesis.

“Guess what happens? Eighty per cent of the energy gets put into catechesis and 20 per cent into evangelization.

“If you want to turn a parish missionary, you have got to over-invest, you have to go to disproportionately invest in evangelization, in adult evangelization”. The DR approach encourages parishes to use a tool of adult evangelization, such as Alpha courses adapted for use in the Catholic Church.

“What matters is that you have a tool that is accessible for adults, that is directed at adults, and is accessible to people who don’t go to Church, who don’t believe.”

The third key is developing leadership and training people for it.

“Someone once said that leadership is the gift that unleashes all the other gifts,” Mallon said. “And yet we don’t train leadership, we don’t train priests to be leaders. And we have to offer some leadership…”

These three keys make all the difference, he said.

The Eucharist is the “keyring” in this imagery, linking all the others, being the source and summit of the Christian life. But the Eucharist itself is not the ‘locus of evangelization’.

“The Eucharist is not the Church evangelizing,” Mallon said.

“The Eucharist is the Church at worship.

“If you actually use the Eucharist successfully to really be a front-line evangelizing tool, you have probably squeezed it to the point where it is not recognizable. That is my conviction.

“The Eucharist is built on a presumption that you believe certain things, that you belong. There are a lot of presumptions there that simply don’t apply to your average non-Churchgoer, non-believer person.”

Summarising his talk, Mallon said DR is a framework: it’s about taking the values inherent in that and putting them to use.

  • Michael Otto is the editor of NZ Catholic. First published in NZ Catholic. Republished with permission.
  • Image: YouTube
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