Moving From Good to Great (Full Version)
St. Monica is an exceptionally good parish. We have weathered storms (financial challenges, closing of our school) and have emerged with new spiritual programs, excellent liturgy, numerous children attending local Catholic schools and Religious Education, solid finances and a Master Plan to steward our facilities.
But what would it take to make St. Monica a “great” Catholic Parish, a parish mentioned in books? A parish where people from the region – and perhaps the country – call and ask “How do you people do what you do?” Can you help us do the same?” And should we even expect or desire more?
Christ does not bless mediocrity (“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:16). Christ desires excellence and abundance for His people and from His people. But this will require everyone (parishioners, pastor, parish leadership, staff) to take a harder look at ourselves and our parish and see where The Lord is calling us to go. You will read the concrete steps that I plan to take as a pastor. But—more importantly– here you will find what role you can take in the plans for something more here at St. Monica. We plan on offering opportunities where you can join in a compelling, exciting, Christ-driven future for our parish.
The Parish Mission – The Parish Vision
St. Monica is not a parish that has a mission. Jesus is the mission – who has a parish. Different people and different groups play a role in the fulfillment of that Mission. The Pastor certainly has his role. The Parish Staff has its role. External (paid, professional) support people have their role as well. But individual parishioners play the primary and most significant role in the fulfillment of that Mission. The parish of St. Monica brings Christ to itself and to others through temporal, pastoral and spiritual activities. That requires specific and intentional direction.
The St. Monica Parish Vision and Mission where not developed in a vacuum nor in a random, haphazard fashion. They have been intentionally developed after two-plus years of experience, prayer, and discernment by parishioners, Parish Leadership, utilizing two separate discernment sessions by two different groups. The Vision and Mission will form the foundation to guide St. Monica’s parish direction, activities and resources.
A New Prayer Ministry – Laying the Foundation
I have witnessed a significant interest in prayer at St. Monica over the past few years. This has been underscored by the consistent dedication of the “Legion of Mary,” rosary and novena prayer said after Mass each day, the success of Walking With Purpose and the Men’s Gospel Reflection Group, prayer-chains that have been active in the parish for years, attendance in the “Prayer Panel” conference last year, comments about the book on prayer provided last year at Christmas as well as the interest in the “Oremus” program on prayer this year.
Last year, I was approached by a parishioner who felt called to establish a new prayer ministry. After several months of prayer, discernment and working out the details, a new “Prayer Ministry” at St. Monica Church will be starting soon. I especially desire and need a dedicated team of “prayer warriors” interceding for the parish, discerning and protecting new initiatives rolling out at St. Monica in the months ahead.
Governance – Parish Resources
A key component to fulfilling the Mission involves the resources which support that mission. When I first arrived at St. Monica, I examined the temporal aspects of the parish. I was impressed with the analysis that the Parish Finance – and Pastoral Councils had done as well as the plan that the Finance Council had put in place to stabilize and enhance the finances of St. Monica. Their tremendous work has borne fruit. The parish has paid off all of its long-term debt and has built up sufficient financial reserves for any emergencies.
One area, which was not being addressed, concerned the parish buildings and infrastructure support. After professional consultation, we determined that close to $1.5 million of repairs and over-due maintenance was needed. The generosity of the parishioners has provided the financial resources to address this. Over the next five years, the new funding from the recent financial campaign, together with some financial reserves, will be coupled with our “Master Plan” and professional assistance from companies such as GKO Architects and Warfel Construction Management. This will ensure that the physical facilities of St. Monica will be well taken care of. Having addressed this issue, I feel that it is now time for me as Pastor to extricate myself from this area and focus on other roles instead.
The Focus of the Pastor – Teaching and Preaching
Christ told all of us (not just priests, nuns and bishops) to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The primary attention of a Bishop (and, correspondingly, his priests as well) involves focusing on three activities that allow other baptized Catholics to fulfill this mandate of Christ. These activities are known as munera or “works provided by individuals for the benefit of the people.” The three munera of the Bishop are “To Teach (or Preach), To Sanctify (through the Sacraments), and to Govern.” Since the Bishop cannot personally be located in all places, these three munera are likewise a constituent component of the ordained priesthood. Like our Archbishop, I cannot be everywhere and address all of the spiritual, pastoral and temporal needs of every parishioner of St. Monica either. This has caused me to examine the charisms that the Lord has given me, and to begin to intentionally focus my energy in a way that achieves the greatest spiritual and pastoral impact in the parish. My plan is to place my gifts where the Lord has shown the greatest need, and allow Him to guide me further in a more specific ways through these activities.
Over the past several years, it has become evident to me where my gifts and talents (“charisms”) lie. They are: “Knowledge,” “Teaching” and “Leadership” (See definitions below). I certainly might be gifted and have been trained in other administrative and managerial areas but I do not feel that they are as “anointed” as the three mentioned above. These are the areas where I need to focus.
One critical area where I need to focus is “Parish Outreach” or fulfillment of the “New Evangelization” (More on this below). This involves engaging the significant number of registered parishioners who do not worship with us on a regular basis, as well as reaching out to other Catholics and non-Catholics in the area who need to be invited to join us. Over the past 2-3 years, we have made a significant investment and a focused effort to reach out to these people through various media (For example: postcards, e-mail, personal letters, personal one-on-one invitations, specific programs by the Parish Pastoral Council, Parish Staff activities to name a few). We have invited them to catechetical events, social activities, cultural events and service projects for grade-school, high school, young adult and adult parishioners. Unfortunately the response has been substantially less than hoped for. The reasons for this are varies and complex (See America Magazine article about this here and Bishop Robert Barron’s response to that article here).
This led me, in recent months, to examine the Scriptures in search of guidance and I found myself focusing on the “parable of the wedding banquet” found in the Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:16-24. After inviting parishioners to the banquet for over 2 years, with limited response, I have decided instead to go out to the “poor and the lame” and focus my talents and energy there instead. Thus, starting this summer I will be personally leading an evangelization effort by hosting two Alpha programs – one in Devon Manor and another at Trinity House. There are currently a number of good, solid, Catholic evangelism programs out there. Any of them can work but I have personally found Alpha to be one that suits my style and I have personally seen it be successful in various settings and in different types of parishes. We are also planning to do a third Alpha outreach this fall for mothers and fathers with small children who might not be able to attend an evening session by holding a new session during the daytime. I have asked several of our young adults about the possibility of holding something similar for their age bracket, possibly along the lines of a “Theology-On-Tap” series. Finally, I will also be hosting the same Alpha series next year during Lent on Sundays for the parish- at-large.
A key to this will be people who likewise feel called to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Trinity House and Devon Manor. I will need the support of a logistical team to assist with setup of presentation equipment, ordering, preparing and distributing materials and helping with coordinating hospitality and snacks.
Governance – Parish Office Resources and Staff
I have begun to implement a strategy for the parish offices and the Parish Staff. Some components have recently been put in place. Other components will be implemented over the next six to nine months.
The first component involves the Parish Staff. I am incredibly fortunate to enjoy their support. The morale among staff members is exceptional. They truly care about one another and are starting to see the need to care for themselves as well. They work hard for the benefit of the parish and are deeply devoted to St. Monica as witnessed to their commitment and dedication to the parish through very difficult times in recent years.
Nevertheless, we realize that we can also improve. We have already begun to re-examine the job descriptions and the “charters” of the Pastor as well as each of the staff members (A previous Charter for Parish Staff is here; the current Charter for Fr. Zlock is here). We are looking to clearly align staff work with the Parish Mission and Vision. This re-chartering and job refocus is currently being done by me with support of paid consultants and other professionals.
To assist us, we are going to roll out a series of “360 degree evaluations” to provide me and members of the staff with feedback, compliments and suggestions. This feedback will provide a “baseline” by which we can measure ourselves in the future, as well as providing specifics about where we are doing things well and where are the areas in which we need to improve.
Two years ago I began developing official “Charters” for the various parish organization and ministries as well. This process continues today.
Governance – Parish Interactions and Communications
The second component involves communication and the interaction among six parties: the parishioners, Pastor, Parish Staff, Parish Leadership (Finance Council, Pastoral Council, Facilities Committee), “official” parish organizations/ministries as well as any tenants/volunteers/groups who lease or use our facilities. Policies and procedures concerning the reservation of parish facilities and space for various activities and organizations were established over the past year and can be found here. Guidelines and procedures to announce and advertise activities and events using various parish media have also been developed and can be found here. Both of these guidelines are also posted on the parish website.
In addition, working with Parish Council and the staff, we have begun to establish a series of “values” and corresponding “behaviors” for all constituencies and the communication relationships among them. These reciprocal expectations between the various parish constituencies will soon be found on the parish website. These will need to be examined periodically and adjusted accordingly.
Governance – Parish Leadership
The Parish Leadership involves three “teams:” the Parish Pastoral Council, the Parish Finance Council and the Parish Facilities Committee. They have been a valuable service to the Parish of Saint Monica, especially over the past five years. Generous and talented members of the congregation stepped forward and, often in sacrificial ways, provided the time the talent and the treasure to bring St. Monica to a better place at a time when the parish was facing significant challenges in practically all areas of the parish’s life.
The parish of St. Monica is in a different place now than it was previously. Therefore, I am also revising the “Charters” of the Parish Finance Council (See link here) and Parish Pastoral Councils (See link here). I am updating their corresponding policies and procedures and changing the focus of the parish leadership away from helping manage the “nuts and bolts” of parish activity and more towards a model that emphasizes prayer, discernment and ensuring the parish is fulfilling the Mission.
Governance – “Parish” Outreach and “Pastoral” Outreach
Typically, if you love someone you want to bring others to meet that person. If you love an organization, a team or a family, you also invite other people to come and experience them as well. If you love St. Monica, you want other people to get to know Her too, right?
Why do I love St. Monica Parish? Because I think it is the one place where people can meet Christ and begin to thrive. This involves “Parish” Outreach or searching out, finding, feeding and inviting our fellow St. Monica brothers and sisters, whom we don’t see on a regular basis. As I mentioned above, this is a key area where I, and other parishioners who feel called to help me, will be focusing in the months ahead.
Besides this “New Evangelization” effort, the final area that I feel needs to be addressed is “Pastoral” Outreach to our brothers and sisters in need. If you want to know what is important to a parish, look at where the parish spends its money. There are many fine parishioners at Saint Monica who selflessly reach out in service to assist other people and have done so for many years. Nevertheless, if we are to follow the mandate of Pope Francis and to go out to the people “at the fringes” we must commit our resources to do this more intentionally in order to support the “spiritual field hospital.” If this is a priority, we need to spend money on it.
For this reason, I instructed that a portion of the recent financial campaign be allocated specifically to hire someone who will be dedicated to both Pastoral Outreach (poor and needy) and Parish Outreach (evangelization). In addition to the allotted campaign funding, a number of parishioner-benefactors have recently stepped forward to financially support this mission and fill the position. These visionary parishioners, in conjunction with the Parish Pastoral Council, have already crafted a job description, salary and benefit levels as well as a “Charter” for the activities of both the Pastoral – and Parish Outreach ministries. (See draft of Outreach Charter here) It is my intention to have this person in place by the end of the year.
The Catholic Church – The Parish – The Parishioners
The “X-factor” – and the most critical success component – in all of this involves the response of the people in the pews. I refer you to an article here by Father Michael White who is the Pastor of Nativity Catholic Church in Timonium, Maryland. After 15 years of struggling, Nativity Parish has experienced astronomical growth. Just prior to this transformational growth however, Father White laid out a vision and mission that was obviously attractive and compelling to many people in his parish as well as the surrounding area.
Fr. White talked about a questions that he often heard concerning his vision and mission: “If we change our church strategy, if we change our church’s direction, won’t people complain, maybe even leave?” His response: “Sure they will, and maybe they should.” In the article he mentioned three good reasons to go.
- You do not plan to ever get involved, give and serve.
- You can’t/won’t invite unchurched friends to your church.
- You don’t believe in the Mission/the Vision; you don’t trust the Pastor or his team.
I want St. Monica to be a place where people come and personally encounter Christ and, on the basis of bank at encounter, see their lives and the lives of others begin to grow and thrive. I recognize the possibility that, after having read what I have written above, that the direction in which I am planning on leading St. Monica might not resonate in your heart. In that respect, I would ask those parishioners to prayerfully consider where the Lord is calling them as well as to what the Lord is calling them.
Pope Francis says that a parish is to be a spiritual “field hospital” in the neighborhood. He also has said that we need to get out of the parish buildings and bring the church “to the fringes.” Thus, much like Pope Francis, I am calling parishioners to a more intentional engagement: to Christ, to individual prayer, to involvement in the parish Mission. It might mean helping within the parish. Most likely is will mean activity outside the “church-y” things of St. Monica and taking St. Monica outside of the black rod-iron fence line, lowering our nets and seeing what kind of catch the Lord provides.
Here we have great opportunity and I hope that you will join me on this road. If you are still reading, you might be thinking, “Ok, now what? How do I get involved? What do I do to become a “WINN-er?” What I Need Now (W.I.N.N.) is a “Trinity of Trinities” –
A Trinity of LOVERS (An “Alpha” team to help me feed the poor and the lame at Devon Manor):
- 3 people for hospitality (food and welcome).
- 3 people for “muscle” (bring people in wheelchairs and walkers to the room)
- 3 people for “technology” (set up PC, screen, projector, speakers, DVD player, test run equipment, break down afterwards)
A Trinity of LEADERS
- 3 people for Finance Council
- 3 people for “Outreach” to poor as well as inactive parishioners.
- 3 people for a new “Prayer and Parish Discernment Team”
A Trinity for LIVELY LITURGY
- 3 “Saturday/Sunday Stage Crew” members (16 years or older)
- 3 Altar Servers (adults, young adults, adults)
- 3 People to bring Communion to sick and home bound (twice monthly)
Do you hear a call for any of this? Call me – 610-644-0110.
Charisms are special abilities given to all Christians by the Holy Spirit to represent Christ and be a channel of God’s goodness for others. Some are ordinary; a few are rather extraordinary but all charisms ought to be exercised in the service of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church). Charisms differ from natural talents. They are not inherited or in-born but given as gifts by the Holy Spirit. Some remains with us long-term. Others for only a short time. Charisms are supernaturally empowering and have an effectiveness that surpasses natural, human abilities. Finally, natural talents can be used for evil purposes or our own enjoyment. Charisms are always for the benefit of others rather than ourselves.
Charisms of Fr. Zlock:
- Knowledge: To be a channel of God’s truth through study and intellectual activity that enables others to better understand God, themselves and the universe.
- Preaching/Teaching: Taking information gleaned from the charism of “Knowledge” and acting as a channel of God’s truth and wisdom by enabling others to learn information and skills that help them reach their fullest spiritual and personal potential (i.e. to “thrive”)
- Leadership: To be an agent of God’s purpose by sharing a compelling vision of a better future with others and directing the overall efforts of a group as they work together to make that “vision” a reality (i.e. by fulfilling the “mission”)
“Charter” (a definition): A formal, prayer-inspired document for an individual, team or organization that provides a deeper understanding of – and better appreciation for – Jesus’ model of leadership. The “Charter Development Process” allows a person or a team of people to use their God given talents and, ultimately increase their sense of fulfillment and joy in ministry.
The Charter document includes such items as:
- Discovering one’s leadership/behavior style.
- Learning how to keep instinctive behaviors from sabotaging effectiveness,
- Identifying specific behaviors, values, and choices that enable one to become more effective.
- Creating a purpose for a person’s/team’s/organization’s role and a compelling vision to fulfill that purpose.
- Identify “Key Responsibility Areas” and “SMART Goals” to bring focus/clarity to the ministry.
- Learn to assess energy and ability levels to keep oneself motivated and balanced in ministry.