How well are we ‘selling’ our parishes?

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When I lived in Anchorage, I served as the stewardship and hospitality coordinator at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in South Anchorage. St. E’s was, and still is, a great parish, with good music, a wonderful elementary school, and a good mix of old-timers and young, vibrant families.

In Omaha, we joined St. John’s, Creighton University’s campus parish. It’s different from St. Elizabeth’s. In an older part of town, its once-flourishing grade school closed decades ago as the population aged. On Sundays, the church is filled with diversity — college students, older folks, academics who work at the university, and people like us, who live outside the boundaries but intentionally call the parish home.

Every parish is unique. How well do parishes address their distinctive needs?

In a recent column, Greg Erlandson, who is the director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, discussed how parishes aren’t always “selling” themselves very well. And if you take umbrage at the concept of selling a parish, take a look at the emptying pews today and reconsider.

Greg talked about a parish where eucharistic adoration was struggling and wondered if the parish is making the hours convenient for the average parishioner, and if anyone is talking from the pulpit about the benefits of adoration. Are parishioners willing to talk about how adoration has changed their lives? He goes on to mention other things parishes could do to expand their members’ understanding of Catholicism. A Catholic book fair? A rethinking of the times set up for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, often held on Saturday afternoon when families are unavailable?

Many parishes have a stewardship campaign which usually culminates in a ministry fair with sign-ups for ministries. At St. Elizabeth’s, our stewardship effort included, over the course of several weeks, “witness talks” which allowed people to briefly explain, at the end of Mass, their ministry and how they had grown personally from their involvement. The ministry fair was a big deal — prizes, treats, balloons.

A good homily should be about 7-8 minutes, and if a homilist could cede a couple of minutes to a witness, a 2-3 minute witness talk can be very effective and fit into the Mass schedule.

 My current parish needs some witness talks. We have a Creation Care team which is doing great stuff, and since that’s a topic near to my heart, I joined. The team has achieved zero waste at parish events. Everything is recycled, reused, or, in the case of paper and food waste, picked up by a composting company with whom we contract.

But, unless I missed it while traveling, I haven’t heard anyone tell us about these efforts at Mass and encourage us to be involved. We recently had a very academic talk from a Jesuit priest about “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. It’s discouraging how few homilists have spoken on this encyclical, one of the most important issues of our time, and I’m happy to hear about it at our parish.

But beyond the academics, maybe a short witness talk could encourage us to learn more about how our parish is trying to live out the values of this encyclical in reality.

We can “sell” our parishes better by extolling our commitment to Gospel values. People want a parish that lives out its truth in the community. Are we supporting a refugee family or housing a pregnant homeless woman? Do we have novenas and classes that are enlivening? Are they explained and encouraged?

And are we hearing about this living Gospel on Sunday?

The writer, formerly from Anchorage, now lives in Omaha, Neb.


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