Over the past several weeks I have been giving some thought about the past, present and future of the Parish of Saint Monica. We are certainly not in the same place – and are certainly not the same parish – that we were 6 to 10 years ago. I often say, “We are not here by accident. We are here ‘on purpose and for a purpose.’” This applies both to individuals as well as to the parish community.
So why is there a Parish of Saint Monica? Who are we? When we talk about what St. Monica is, we have to be able to say more than “Well, we’re not St. Isaac’s or we’re not St. Catherine’s or we’re not St. Norbert’s.” The question is, “what is the parish that God is calling us to be” as part of His Kingdom?
In order for us to know what we’re doing as a parish, we need to know what we’re doing and called to do as individual parishioners. For this reason, over the last two years we have been asking questions and trying to discern what our “call” is, both as individual as well as a community. The first step in this discernment is building a foundation of prayer which animates and informs this “call.” Thus, over the past few years we have especially emphasized prayer and scripture study in our spiritual activities and catechesis. In addition, through the “Called and Gifted” program based on the Spiritual Gifts Inventory of the Catherine of Siena Institute, we also offered parishioners the opportunity to engage in a process of discerning their personal call. Parishioners were provided a systematic way to determine and exercise their individual charisms and investigate the task of discipleship in a more involved and challenging way.
I believe we have reached a plateau as a parish, but I mean that in a very positive sense. We are not a parish that is struggling financially. We are stewarding the temporal resources that God has given us. We have introduced a series of spiritual and catechetical programs. We have invested significant resources in the spiritual formation and catechetical development of our young people. Parishioners have mentioned that they are pleased with the direction of the parish and that they feel a general sense of positive momentum.
However, that poses a number of questions. The first question is, momentum towards where? Momentum towards what?
If someone were to come to you and ask, “What does the future of St. Monica look like” what would you say? If we were going to invite people to our parish, what would we tell them? What is the compelling story that would cause someone to say, “You know, I’d like to come by and hear a little bit more about that.”
If you were going to tell the story of Saint Monica parish, say over the past 20 years, what would that story sound like? How would you describe the past? How would you describe your thoughts about where the parish is right now? Could you tell a compelling story that would move people to join us on this journey? Or perhaps, as you look at the present and peer into the future, you are not so optimistic about any exciting times to come. This is perfectly legitimate and could be a fair assessment as well.
Regardless of your opinion of the “state of the parish,” it is important to ask yourself the same questions that Pope Francis asked at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul while he was in Philadelphia – What about YOU? What are YOU going to do? What was your role in the past at St. Monica? In what ways did your actions (positive or not) contribute to that story of St. Monica? What is your role at the present time? How do you see yourself playing a role in the future of the parish as well?
Along these lines, and on a practical level, over the past several months, the Parish Staff and Parish Leadership have been asking themselves about the “story of St. Monica” and have been systematically taking steps to examine parish policies, procedures and expectations. We have analyzed parish communications to-, from-, and with others in the parish. We have formed a focus group to see how we can improve our website and further enhance our social media platform. The Pastor and the Parish Staff have also asked ourselves how we can do better. We have engaged in “360 evaluations” giving us close to 5,000 data points on how we can improve as a Pastor and as a Staff to support the parish mission.
These are very much the granular, nuts-and-bolts aspects of good parish leadership. Over the past couple of months and for the next several weeks it is my intention to come out of these managerial weeds and entertain the conversations to prayerfully discern the bigger picture. The reflections over the next several weeks will reflect this as we examine “Leadership in The Augustinian Tradition.” (Stay tuned!)
In addition, a number of months ago, I received an invitation from the Catherine of Siena Institute to fly to Colorado Springs and attend a one-week seminar on “forming intentional disciples.” I shall be attending this seminar in a few weeks. This is a key component of the call of Jesus Christ who said, “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). My feeling is, if that’s what He told us to do, then that’s what we should be doing. It’s critical therefore that I get a better understanding about what a disciple is, how we “call” them, how we “form” them and how we send them forth.
Another question – What specifically is a disciple supposed to do? This gets back to the idea that once we understand what we are, we will better understand what we are called to do. Finally, once we know what we are called to do as individuals, we will have a better sense as to what we’re supposed to be doing as a parish from a “big picture” point of view.