December 6, 2002
How To Renew Your Parish In Just Twelve Years
1. Why be committed to parish renewal?
Because we love Jesus and we love the Church as Jesus loves the Church (Eph 5:25), and because the parish is an important part of the body of Christ, the Church.
2. What is parish renewal?
The word "renewal" is a very fuzzy term. You can make it mean almost anything you want. Therefore, we need to define "renewal" more objectively. I define renewal to be the transformation of a person, group of people, geographical area, building, or institution into what the Lord wants it to be. Thus, renewal implies a knowledge of God's will for the person or thing to be renewed. For example, God's will is for each person to be saved and to become holy. So the renewal of persons means that we are transformed so as to live a saved and sanctified life. God's will for a parish is that it be transformed into what it is intended to be _ a community of small Christian communities, not just a collection of renewed individuals. This is the historical meaning of the parish and the definition of a parish given by Pope John Paul II. There are many other good things that can happen in the parish, but these are, at best, a preparation for renewal, if we define "renewal" as the transformation of a person or a thing into what God wants it to be.
3. What is the basis for Pope John II defining a parish as a community
All of the churches of the New Testament and of the first 300 years of Christianity were small communities. The Bible and the early history of the Church are the basis for defining a parish as a community of small communities. Any other definition of a parish is not strongly based in the source of divine revelation _ the Spirit working through the Church and its Bible. (For more on this, see our book, Christian Home-based Communities.)
4. What are small Christian communities?
Small numbers (approximately 12 adults with their children) of people who are trying to share daily their life in Christ. In other words, a small community is made up of Christians who are practically living out their baptismal brotherhood and sisterhood.
5. How many small communities must there be in a parish for it to be
There is no definite answer to this question. However, if 25% of the parishioners were in small communities, this would probably determine the general spirit, outreach, and ministry of the parish. This would be reason to call the parish renewed, or at least in the process of renewal.
6. Does everyone have to be in a formal Christian community?
No, for some Christians, there will be points in their lives when a structured Christian community is not possible. At these times, they will need to develop an informal network of brothers and sisters in Christ. However, this informal Christian community will not usually branch off into new communities. This prevents the great evangelization which can take place through Christian communities. Therefore, we should try to join or form small Christian community, if possible.
7. What is the first step in renewing a parish?
Jesus began His public ministry by evangelizing and discipling twelve men. We should begin in a similar way.
8. What do these twelve people do as they grow in discipleship?
They evangelize and disciple others. They do this primarily at home, in their neighborhoods, and where they work. They also evangelize other parishioners through several outreaches, such as parish missions, retreats, days of renewal, revivals, prayer services, etc.
9. What part do prayer and intercession have in parish renewal?
Usually great numbers of parishioners must pray more than they ever have before. Otherwise not many people will be evangelized, discipled, and enter small communities. The parish leadership should encourage more frequent (even daily) Mass attendance, eucharistic adoration, monthly Confession, daily Bible reading, Marian devotions, family prayer, and prayer for married couples.
10. Will the parish grow in numbers throughout this time?
Not at first. As the parish begins to be renewed through small communities, many parishioners will notice in a year or two that the parish is changing. Some will not like this. This will result in a drop of attendance at Sunday Mass. For example a parish of 500 people may drop to 400 before growing to be 700.
11. How involved must the pastor be for parish renewal?
Ideally, the pastor should be very involved. He has the responsibility to lead in uniting the small communities of the parish with each other and with the diocese. However, it is possible to renew a parish without the pastor leading. This can be done with exceptionally gifted lay leaders and with at least the support of the pastor.
12. What if your pastor doesn't even support your attempts at parish
Pray for your parish, serve your parish as the Lord leads you, and try to lead parishioners to a total commitment to the Lord. However, you will have to limit yourself to setting the stage for renewal in your parish. You may be called to work in renewing the larger church by forming a small community and networking your community with others in your diocese and beyond.
13. How can I connect a small community or a network of small communities
with my local diocese?
By forming a lay association. See canon law, section 298 and the following, for more details. For more information on this, you may contact us at Presentation Ministries. We can share with you how we became a lay association under the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
14. What are the advantages of becoming a lay association under a diocese?
As a lay association, you are recognized and approved by the universal Church. Moreover, your relationship with the Church is clearly defined. Even if you can connect with the Church by being under your parish, a change of pastors can be a serious problem if the new pastor does not see parish renewal in terms of forming small communities. Also, small communities, through no fault of their own, can be an occasion for unnecessary division in a parish where most of the people may not be evangelized. If the small communities are officially connected with the diocese rather than the parish they can still fully serve their parish but not have to be initially accepted by a large number of parishioners.
15. How long will it take to renew a parish?
Obviously, there is no set answer to this question, but I propose 12 years as a general and probably minimum time-frame. To prepare a parish for renewal requires leading many parishioners into a new dimension of prayer. This will take a year or two under the best conditions. Moreover, parish renewal must be preceded and accompanied by strong evangelistic outreaches. To develop this requires at least two to four years. The key to parish renewal is to raise up both leaders to form small communities and leaders to help develop these leaders. This took Jesus three years. It will take us at least that long. For small communities to begin to branch off to form new communities may take one to three years. For these communities to be firmly networked in the parish or diocese may require another three years.
16. How can a group of leaders persevere in parish renewal for ten
to fifteen years?
Only by God's grace. By daily forgiveness of those who have hurt them, daily repentance from their own sins, accountability to and support from other leaders, a strong sacramental life, relationships ordered according to God's will, and unconditional love poured out by the Holy Spirit (see Rm 5:5).
17. Is there any way to speed up parish renewal?
We can at least keep from slowing it down by being courageous in not avoiding the suffering that the gospel entails (2 Tm 1:7). If we willingly make many sacrifices and suffer rejection and persecution for love of Jesus (see 1 Pt 4:16), parish renewal will proceed as quickly as the Lord wills.
18. Why would we suffer in parish renewal?
After having repented ourselves (see Mt 7:5), we are called to correct others and call them to repentance of such sins as unforgiveness, apathy, lust, gambling, gossip, etc. Some will react to this negatively and persecute us. Furthermore, the Lord will call us to make many sacrifices for years to do the work of parish renewal.
19. Why would we be willing to suffer to renew our parishes?
Because of our love for the Lord and His people, we can be willing to share in Jesus' sufferings (see Col 1:24; Phil 3:10).
20. Will the Lord renew my parish?
Eventually, He will either renew it or phase it out (see Rv 2:5). He will fulfill His plan of salvation. "He who calls us is trustworthy, therefore he will do it" (1 Thes 5:24).
Nihil obstat: Reverend Robert J. Buschmiller, July 1, 1994.
Imprimatur: + Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, July 6, 1994.