Six Ways to Build Community in Your Parish November 6, 2009
We’re outgrowing our church … and it’s all Fr. Felipe’s fault. Well, not fault. Credit. The fact is, we’ve had our pastor only a short time but he’s awakened so much of the parish. Since he got here, we’ve had a phenomenal adult retreat, several great retreats for teens, small faith communities forming, numerous Bible study groups, a fellowship ministry, some truly inspiring guest speakers and parish missions… and I’m sure I must be forgetting some things. Now, we have so many people meeting at the parish almost every night that it’s getting hard to find room for all the groups to meet. People are getting to know each other’s names.
I’ve reached the point where I wouldn’t want to move, because I’d miss my parish. That’s big.
Not every pastor has the time or ability to plan so many things to bring the parish together. I realize we are incredibly fortunate. But I think most parishes could do some of these things, and that most pastors would bless these activities if they didn’t have to arrange them personally. So I’m going to list a few of the things our parish is doing or has done that have helped us to become far more of a community.
1. Friends of Fatima. This is a local ministry that I’m pretty sure this one was organized by lay people, with the pastor’s approval. It’s a group of people who have set about doing whatever they can to encourage fellowship. They serve donuts after morning Mass to get people sticking around and talking instead of rushing to their cars. They put on an annual harvest dinner (a real winner in a farming community). They help with other events throughout the year, and they have really brought a feeling of camaraderie to our little parish. If your parish doesn’t have a fellowship group and needs one, consider being the one to spark that fire.
2. COR retreats for teens. These are made available for young people in the parish, and have done a really good job of lighting a fire. The adult planners (as well as teens who have been through the retreat already) partner with new retreatants for a memorable experience. Our confirmation students are required to attend one retreat during their two year preparation; it can be this or another retreat, but I’ve never heard a kid regret attending COR. This is a larger movement, not just our parish, but unfortunately I don’t know where to get information about a program. My best suggestion would be to talk to someone at a parish hosting one in your area to find out what would be necessary to bring them to your parish.
3. Sacred Heart Evangelization Retreat. I haven’t been to a COR, but I have been to a Sacred Heart Evangelization retreat, and it was life changing. It brought enthusiasm and friendship to a whole new level at our parish, and had a long-lasting effect of helping us to build small faith communities that are strengthening our faith and giving us a study and support network that makes so much of the retreat’s effects more permanent.
4. Parish missions. If your parish is not having some sort of mission, I’m surprised. However, if you want a recommendation for one that really moved us, I suggest Brendan Case. He is a layman who leads parish missions, and has a gift for reaching different groups of people. Our parish was really buzzing after he came here, and I know that my teen daughter really felt that it changed her life for the better.
5. Bible Study. While it’s true that any group of people can get together and study the Bible together, you will get much more out of it if it is parish sponsored and has solid guidance. I highly — oh, SO highly — recommend Jeff Cavins’ Great Bible Adventure. Jeff Cavins is extraordinarily gifted both with knowledge of Scripture and with the ability to explain it. The program comes with CDs or DVDs of his talks, which are followed up with group discussion in your small group. I recommend a group of 8-16 participants. The DVD program is a bit of an expenditure; most families won’t be able to buy it. On a parish level, though, it is very much worth the cost of (if I recall correctly) around $300. It can be re-used with one bible study group after another.
6. Finally, there’s you and me. We Catholics are often not as good as we ought to be at fellowship. When you go into the church, look for someone you know but not well. Go up to them and smile, and say hello. Tell them it’s good to see them. No program in the world can ever replace genuine human kindness and friendliness. Even we can learn it, if we try.