Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spontaneous combustion

Can a parish at which the pastoral staff's top priority is not taking on more work light a spiritual fire in its parishioners? St. Al's is trying to find out.

The May 18, 2008 bulletin (no longer online) included an item called "Parish Leadership Retreat".
Jim Smith from Pastoral Planning.com will be coming to lead us in looking at a larger focus for formation within our parish, which can challenge ALL people - children, teens and adults.

This May 20, 2008 "retreat", actually an evening meeting, was titled Dreams & Visions. We sat pre-broken up into small groups at tables. A member of the pastoral staff introduced Mr. Smith. That introduction included recounting that a couple staffers had seen his presentation and were so impressed they invited him to our parish. The introduction made a point of saying that an essential part of the attraction of the program is that it wouldn't involve a lot of additional work for the staff.

It happened I was at the same table as the pastor. I looked to see if he would jump up to clarify that remark; he didn't. He spoke up here and there on other points, but not to disabuse us of the notion that our pastoral staff's priorities include avoiding more work.

The July 20, 2008 parish bulletin (no longer online) carried the official meeting summary, titled "How Do We Make A Good Parish A Great Parish?"
The first step was gathering the leaders of the parish to hear about the process.

The second step is to form a core of leaders to develop a vision of how the process will work for our parish.

Regarding my level of skepticism of "develop a vision" leading to "process will work", see St. Dilbert's.

The January 18, 2009 parish bulletin (no longer online) carried an update, "Dreams and Visions: Creating a Pastoral Plan".
Since mid-May 2008, a group of parish members and staff have been meeting to reflect on the book, Dreams and Visions, by Bill Huebsch. As we look to develop a pastoral plan for lifelong faith formation, we decided that it was important to express both the strengths and challenges facing St. Alphonsus Parish Community [sic].

This was followed by a long list of strengths, then the sentence "We do have challenges" with no specifics. One parish weakness is failing to call attention to its accomplishments, in homilies, the bulletin, or the parish website, not to boast but to build upon. Another is obliviousness to its internal contradictions. The bulletin article goes on,
Our core work is to help people deepen their commitment with Christ, and to, thereby, light a spiritual fire within our parish.

Not likely when the pastoral staff acts as a spritual fire extinguisher.

Any regular readers might recall I had raised the issue of increasing Sunday Mass attendance during discernment for parish council around May 1996. The pastoral staff members present seemed aghast and immediately responded with reasons why this was not a pressing problem. This kind of response was a regular source of frustration for me when I raised this and related issues of parishioner engagement during my three years on the council, and after.

I believe it was at the first of our parish dinner and auction fundraisers that someone then in a position to know took me aside. (I think this was in 2002). That person told me that the real reason the pastoral staff opposed increasing attendance was because more people would involve more work for them. Apparently they've since repeated this so often among themselves that they've forgotten why they hadn't been saying it publicly.



Anonymous Aquinas said...

It's like this: Why would you look to a man who entered the seminary immediately after eighth grade, who's never had to cook a meal for himself, do his own laundry, clean his own house, or even buy his own clothes (my pastor doesn't——there are some doting women who do this for him) for any kind of rational leadership? Add: he's probably never taken a college-level business or finance course, is lost with simple hand tools, and has a well-meaning parishioner take his car to the car wash and fill it with gas while he's on his day off. You expect any kind of leadership from a guy like this? Sure, he can "vision" (I do it all the time when I'm 12th in the checkout line at Pick n Save), but the heavy lifting is simply beyond his life experience. His mediocrity has been "affirmed" throughout his working life. Further, he's surrounded himself with staff who would have real difficulty getting work in the real world. Work-averse temperaments don't land wowser jobs.

No, the problem is deeper than most realize; it goes all the way back to priestly "formation" as it existed forty years ago in this archdiocese. My suggestion? Serious parish-wide prayer and fasting: the first steps to real, honest discernment.

Good luck. I'm gonna bet the prayer and fasting part are too old-school for your guy, too negative, too not vibrant, Gospel exhortations notwithstanding.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Terrence Berres said...

You make a typical priest's background sound like that of some minor nobility. It's hard to believe that was the the experience of all, or almost all of them.

Your picture doesn't seem to fit their burning desire to have a home miles away from the parish that they can commute from. Between that and their fixed terms, pastors now seem more like transient management. Under that view, one can see why a concept like "servant leader" is, in practice, treated like flavor-of-the-month management jargon.

As for the pastoral staff, this is why I use the Dilbert analogy. In "The Office", from what I've seen, no one secretly opposes Dunder Mifflin selling more paper because it would involve work.

1:42 PM  

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