the best parish bulletin welcome ever!

microsoft clip art
microsoft clip art

Over at NCR, Thomas Reese posted a welcome announcement from a church he recently visited. Apparently, this announcement has been used in several different churches. Merely copying and pasting another post is lazy blogging, but this one is brilliant and stands on its own. It’s also a clarion call to what a faith community and the new evangelization is all about. Enjoy!

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no hablo inglés. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds. We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too. If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church. We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts…and you!

A parish, like a family, is made of woven lives | National Catholic Reporter

Hubby and I recently attended an early Saturday evening mass at a parish away from home. One doesn’t expect a rousing choir or lively liturgy at 5:30pm on a Saturday. After all, many of us are there just to get our Sunday obligation checked off the weekend do-to list; freeing up our Sunday for sleep-ins and fun in the sun.

We entered the half empty church expecting a quiet, simple mass. Instead, we experienced a loooong, drawn out liturgy and rambling homily. I looked around at the blank faces, and heard an audible sigh or two. Sadly, we have attended too many masses like this in the past, and they always leave me guilt-ridden. I begin lecturing myself about the core value of the mass; the parish is more than the priest; we can’t expect each and every liturgical celebration to be an uplifting and inspiring experience. But, it seldom works. A good parish mass – whether you are a member or a visitor – should nurture and nourish. It should not feel like an hour of penance.

Patrick T. Reardon has written a wonderful essay for the National Catholic Reporter titled A parish, like a family, is made of woven lives .

The warm description of his own parish community in Chicago sounds like a touch of heaven on earth. His words are filled with love and gratitude for the woven tapestry of lives that fill the pews; lives that come together each Sunday as a real communion of souls. Oh, if only all parishes could be like this….

Vienna archdiocesan re-structuring provokes many questions

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, has announced a major restructuring of the diocese. Within the next 10 years, 660 parishes will be amalgamated into 150. The shortage of priests and declining numbers of Catholics is cited as the reason.

The situation in Vienna gives us much to ponder. On the one hand, Cardinal Schönborn praises the role of the laity in his vision of a restructured church. When I first read these paragraphs in the NCR article, I confess that my heart skipped a joyful beat,

“I am fully aware that these reforms denote a far-reaching change of perspective,” Schönborn said. “We must take leave of the traditional concept that the church is only present where there is a priest. That is a restricted view that has developed over time but which must now be corrected. Church is community, and leading offices in the church should in principle be carried out collaboratively, even if the parish priest has the final responsibility according to canon law.”

The “common priesthood of all the baptized” will take center stage from now on, Schönborn said, meaning that those who have been baptized and confirmed will be responsible for evangelization and pastoral work. The reform is meant to bring about a new form of cooperation between priests and lay Catholics based on their common vocation to Christianity, he said.

Amen! Now, you’re talking. Granted, it’s rather sad that this is acknowledged only when the kaka hits the fan and reality seems to leaves you no choice. Still, this is what church should be. A high ranking cardinal is empowering the laity to take a more active and collaborative role. This is good! So, how is it going to work?

Several priests — “at least three to five” — would be active in each of the central parishes and would run the parish jointly with lay parishioners.

“Participatory leadership with clear task allocation” was the aim, Schönborn said. One priest in each of the central parishes would be responsible to the archbishop.

Within these large central parishes, there would be many small affiliated communities run only by lay Catholics who would work voluntarily. The cardinal expressly emphasized that no parishes would be closed, but smaller parishes might be amalgamated with larger ones.

Catholics would have to travel to one of the large central parishes to celebrate the Eucharist, but Services of the Word would be celebrated by the laypeople running the local affiliated communities.

Church activities would be dedicated to evangelization to a far greater extent than they had been up to now, Schönborn said.

“More and more vibrant communities will be able to develop,” he said, as there would be less administrative work, costs would be bundled, resources pooled and thus “more time left for evangelization.”

Okay, now it doesn’t look so rosy. Living in the rural prairies, I know how difficult it is when a small, mission parish must shut down. I know the difficulty that many families face when they have to travel many miles to attend a Sunday Liturgy. I know what it is like to have no priest on a Sunday and celebrate an occasional lay-led Liturgy of the Word. So far, we have survived. But, what if all our rural parishes were closed in favour of mega-churches in the cities and larger towns? It could happen one day.

The need for ordained, sacramental ministers is not addressed by merely amalgamating parishes. These reforms are being criticized by the Catholic reform group Austrian Priests’ Initiative, which is in favor of ordaining married men and women to relieve the shortage of priests.

So, is the answer to open the doors to the priesthood, or to open wider the doors for more active lay participation? Of course, this does not need to be an either-or question. Doing both might be the logical response for the current needs.

But, if lay women and men are expected to do the administrative and pastoral work previously done by the priest, then they should NOT have to do it as volunteers.  Personally, I find it cheeky of the good Cardinal to propose this while promoting the cost savings of his amalgamation plan. The church has many women and men who are highly educated in theology and pastoral ministry. We should expect a certain level of experience, training or qualifications from lay pastoral ministers, and pay them accordingly – a proper and just living wage not a nominal stipend.

This is going to be an important story to watch. We have heard dire warnings of priest shortages and shrinking parishes for years. For some, this isn’t bad news. Zealous souls on the left have often shared their eagerness for the church to implode. Only then, they believe, could much desired reform rise, phoenix-like, out of the ashes of a tired and spent hierarchy. They are waiting in the wings and on the margins, eager to lead a lay revolution in the church.

Sometimes we have to be careful what we wish for. The situation in Vienna is proof that the future may be closer than we think.Grandiose visions and exuberant battle cries can easily vaporize in the harshness of reality. It’s easy to talk from the margins. It’s much harder to be working from the inside. Are we, as lay women and men, really ready to take true responsibility of our church’s mission in the world? Am I? Are you?