Editor’s note: This week we’re thinking about small changes we can make for a big year in ministry.
When I first came to the United States, I was eager to sample the rich food that was new and unfamiliar to me. And so I indulged and over-indulged. To my surprise I found that, one day, I could no longer button my jeans comfortably! “How had this happened?” I thought. Certainly it didn’t happen overnight; it was the result of small decisions that had largely gone unnoticed over time.
The same can be said about the dwindling financial and personnel resources that many parishes are experiencing. We did not decline as an institution overnight but in small gradual shifts that often went unnoticed over time. I have noticed that people tend to point to a particular year or decade of the Church and view that time period either through rose-tinted glasses or as the main problem. For example, “Oh, if only Vatican II had not happened, then we could go back to 1952 when the Church was flourishing!” is a refrain that I hear often in parish life. But this is an overly simplistic and not an entirely honest view. The past is what has brought us to the future.
At this time of year, many people make New Year’s resolutions. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only 9% are successful in achieving all or part of their goals. Once in a while we make a transformative change that travels with us from one year to another, but most of our New Year’s resolutions fall to the wayside, and we slip into old patterns and familiar routines.
Most people know that we need to make changes in parish life and often wonder if small, incremental shifts are worthwhile. Let’s translate this to our own lives. Think about any goal that you want to undertake in life, such as running a marathon. In order to run and finish a marathon, you do not go out and run 26 miles the next day. Instead you break your goal into smaller and more manageable objectives so that your training can progress steadily. A lot of training is required to get aspiring runners off the couch, into their running shoes, and competing in a 5K or a marathon. The training required to achieve those goals is predicated on gradual change.
The same is true of parish life. Just as decline has been a process, so too is inspiring and fostering a culture of lasting change. When I found myself to be more overweight than I would have liked, I knew that it was not because I gained weight overnight; I put it on pound by pound. The years of decline that we are experiencing as a Church stretch back much deeper than the last 50 years into the past five or six hundred years. We can spend our time living in the past, or we can learn from history’s lessons and make the shifts that are needed now to prepare for a new Pentecost.
Here are four simple ideas to become a healthier person and a healthier parish:
- Commit to personal prayer. Make this a “non-negotiable” practice you commit to every day.
- Pray with your family and parish team every day. Set aside 15 minutes or whatever length of time is comfortable to offer up intentions and be united in God’s spirit.
- Say “no.” As ministers, we often are overcommitted and overwhelmed. Remember that saying “no” opens up the opportunity to say “yes” to something else—to caring for yourself and your family, or giving you the necessary space for creativity. Parishes may also have to say “no” occasionally in order to say “yes” to something else. We may have to stop events, programs, and practices that are not bearing fruit or leading people to a deeper relationship with Jesus.
- Try something new. We often get stuck in what is safe and familiar when it comes to our faith. But it is important to grow as a disciple. Entering into a new experience, such as a charismatic prayer group or a silent retreat, can help us to see ourselves and our faith differently.
Parishes can incorporate new insights and ideas that are based on the emerging needs of parishioners into regular parish life. This puts our parishes in contact with new people and avoids a “same-old-same-old” mentality. What changes are you making for your new year?
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