ST. FRANCIS — There was a time when a parish in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was described by the ethnicity of its members. Or it may have been described as urban, suburban or rural. Those terms are being supplanted by “maintenance” and “mission-oriented” (see accompanying articles) as terms defining what parishes cannot be and what they need to be, respectively, according to two members of the Archdiocesan Synod implementation team responsible for evangelization and the Sunday Mass.

The offertory gifts await presentation during Mass, May 28, at St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Milwaukee. Susan McNeil, director of the Nazareth Project for Marriage and Family Life, likened the celebration of weekend Masses to the front porch of the church, “the most important thing we do.” (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

The offertory gifts await presentation during Mass, May 28, at St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Milwaukee. Susan McNeil, director of the Nazareth Project for Marriage and Family Life, likened the celebration of weekend Masses to the front porch of the church, “the most important thing we do.” (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

During “A Vision for the Future: Evangelization and the Sunday Mass,” at the Cousins Center, the mornings of Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, more than 1,300 people heard Fr. Philip Bogacki, pastor of what he termed “two maintenance parishes” in Wauwatosa, Christ King and St. Bernard, and Susan McNeil, director of the archdiocese’s Nazareth Project for Marriage and Family Life, define what maintenance parishes need to do to in order to become mission-oriented parishes, why they must do it, and how to make that transition.

They based their keynote presentation on the Great Commission (Mt 28:16-20) in which Jesus tells the apostles to make disciples of all nations.

“That Great Commission has been placed in our hands, and we are stewards of that. And we have to be honest that, at times, we have not lived that out as faithfully as we’ve been called to,” McNeil said, noting failure to do so affects the church and the world.

Fr. Bogacki said “data gives us pause,” citing statistics from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) that show fewer than 30 percent of self-identified Catholics attend Mass on weekends; 10 percent of Americans identify themselves as former Catholics; 71 percent of those who leave the Catholic Church don’t leave over doctrinal matters, but because they feel their spiritual needs aren’t being met; and 70 percent of Catholic children are not enrolled in a Catholic day school or religious education program.

“There is great hope and there is great opportunity,” he said regarding evangelization.

Sacramentalized but not evangelized

McNeil said it was the laity’s responsibility to proclaim the Good News to people who had not heard it.

“We have many, many Catholics who are sacramentalized – who have received the sacraments, but who have never been evangelized,” she said. “They do not know a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ through the sacramental life of the church is possible.”[su_pullquote align=”left”]Click here for a related story on an evangelization presentation made by Fr. Brian Mason and Mitchell Owens.[/su_pullquote]

Change is necessary, McNeil said, for that relationship to occur and grow.

“We need to change the very culture of our parishes and the archdiocese, and to do things differently than we’ve been doing them,” she said. “To move from maintenance to mission, from our status quo to bold, enthusiastic mission.”

McNeil said change will require hard work.

“It’s not about programs; it’s about leadership,” she said. “It’s not about numbers; it’s about discipleship.”

Focus on the Mass

McNeil called celebration of weekend Masses “the front porch of the church … the most important thing we do.”

“It’s the time each week when we encounter people, where people encounter the church for the first time,” she said. “It is the moment at which, during certain times in the liturgical year, especially at weddings, funerals and baptisms, we encounter people who otherwise would never darken our doorstep.”[su_pullquote align=”right”]Traits of a ‘mission’ parish
According to Susan McNeil, director of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Nazareth Project for Marriage and Family Formation, several traits are evident in a mission parish:
• Great emphasis on reaching out to those who are not there.
• Doesn’t chase away RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) candidates because they come with a laundry list of things they don’t like about the church — the church with which they wish to engage.
• People speak openly about their relationship with Christ Jesus and it isn’t considered strange.
• Effort to actively listen to outsiders and what their needs are rather than listening to committee members, staff or even the pastor.
• Absolute laser focus on mission, on building disciples through the sacramental life of the church, helping people explicitly encounter Jesus Christ. ν More pastoral ministry staff than administrative staff
• Parish budget reflects parish mission. That which is essential to the mission receives the highest amount of resources — without apologies. [/su_pullquote]

Fr. Bogacki explained the benefits of focusing on the Mass, noting that in doing so parishes are focusing on “our very central mission.”

“Our goal as an archdiocese is to strengthen that Sunday experience for all those who come to church, whether parishioners, seekers, or unbelievers,” he said. “It means we have to be bold and take a hard look at what we’re doing, why we’re doing what we’re doing, and how people experience us — especially visitors and strangers.”

Emphasis on music, message, ministry

Fr. Bogacki said parishes cannot ignore input from visitors and strangers, citing an example of data he received from a small test conducted in one of his parishes.[su_pullquote align=”left”]Traits of a ‘maintenance’ parish
According to Fr. Philip Bogacki, pastor of Christ King and St. Bernard parishes, Wauwatosa, several traits describe a maintenance parish:
• Same people do same things.
• Volunteers are harder to find.
• Parish staff members are burned out.
• Healthy percentage of parishioners don’t know what the parish mission is.
• Parish calendar and parish budget don’t match the parish mission.
• Difficult to start new initiatives because parishioners are afraid to let go of old activities.
• Priest/deacon can’t find enough time to work on his weekend homily.
• People don’t sing and participate in Mass.
• Lack of well thought out hospitality; guests’ impressions are dismissed.
• Phone calls or emails to parish front desk are met with, “Are you a registered member?” rather than, “Congratulations! How can we be part of your baptism, wedding or time of grief?”
• Outside groups dominate the facilities and sporting events have taken over, sometimes when Mass is being celebrated. [/su_pullquote]

“The difference between what a parish feels it offers, especially in the area of hospitality – where every parish will feel they excel – compared to the impression of a group of outsiders reveals to us a very tremendous gap. Miles apart at best,” he said.

The priest called upon parishes to improve in areas of “music, message and ministry – hymns, homilies and hospitality.”

“We have a responsibility and the opportunity to shape the celebrations that happen in our parishes every weekend so that we maximize the opportunities for God to reach people through the experience of Mass,” Fr. Bogacki said.

McNeil said the focus of the parish’s budget, pastor’s time, parish calendar, and life in parishes and schools needs to be directed at calling people to discipleship.

“We have to take a fresh look at how we celebrate Sundays and Sunday worship in every single parish in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” she said, adding, “Everything flows to and from the Mass.”

Embrace Great Commission

In his opening comments, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki explained the impact of embracing the Great Commission.

“We allow people who do not know Jesus Christ to come to know him through us; to evangelize those who have fallen away, who have become disinterested in the Lord Jesus,” he said. “We either become depressed or we accept the challenge to go out and preach, teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bringing people to the Lord.”

The archbishop asked the gathered to “understand the urgency” in accepting that commission.

“Why urgency? Because this is the moment given to us,” he said. “We cannot be immobilized or made silent in the face of the challenge. We must use what we can to make Jesus known.”