Dear sojourners of St. Monica – I have a story to tell you.
6 years ago I arrived at St. Monica. At that time the hot topics were parish transition, healing in the wake of the school closing and the hiring of a new “youth director.” I also felt that we needed to talk about everything that I saw around the campus that was broken (That topic wasn’t particularly popular).
First, we hired Jason Carter to be the Director of Youth and Family Formation. Initially he concentrated primarily on building up our Youth Program. One year later we changed the focus of Jason’s mission to “Parish Evangelization, Formation and Discipleship.” Meghan Nulty was hired as his assistant to help revamp the Religious Education Program and further enhance “Edge” and Life Teen – our two youth programs. Both began to strategize on how they could also minister to families while supporting adult formation programs like That Man Is You, Alpha and Walking With Purpose.
A successful campaign raised $1.7 million. We enhanced the buildings and infrastructure of the parish. The parish began to see growth. We initiated several new spiritual, pastoral and catechetical programs.
With these items well underway, 3 years ago I gathered a group of parishioners around me. I wished them to help discern the direction and focus of the parish. The backdrop of our discussions were two questions:
- What does Jesus Christ want the Parish of St. Monica to look like in 5 years?
- If we closed tomorrow – besides parishioners – would anybody miss us?
I used the book Forming Intentional Disciples as a point of departure. We looked at one chapter each month. We discussed how it applied to us at St. Monica. We talked about ”discipleship.” We deliberated how people, and thus parishes, can grow spiritually in their faith. We studied the 7 “Spiritual Thresholds” of spiritual maturity. We investigated thriving parishes around the country to see what we could learn from them.
In month 4, I explained the idea of “threshold conversations.” These one-on-one spiritual discussions can have several characteristics. They take a person where they are on that spiritual maturity scale. It encourages them to share their faith. It offers an opportunity for one person to accompany another on their spiritual journey towards Christ. The hope is that this might help the person mature in their spirituality.
This was a new concept to most people present. So the next month we explained the concept in depth. We then invited some of the people to engage in a “threshold conversation.” Two people did so by sharing their faith stories while the rest of us listened.
Something happened in that room that evening. There was a palpable “encounter” with Christ and the Holy Spirit. We all agreed that other parishioners needed to experience the same type of “encounter” we felt that evening. Our task was how to make that happen.
We prayed. We met. We talked – both during our scheduled meetings as well as informally – for over 12 months. Several months later we thought we head the Lord telling us that He wanted to “encounter” the people at St. Monica:
- Through His Word,
- Through Liturgy
- Through Reaching Out And Serving Others.
It’s been about 3 years since we had those conversations. With the recent addition of Deb Rojas as Director of Liturgy and Music, all three “Encounter Pillars” are now in place.
14 U.S. dioceses and archdioceses currently are without a bishop or they have a bishop who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. Archbishop Chaput is one of them. Over the next several months, every US Bishop will be meeting with Pope Francis. They will discuss their respective (arch)dioceses. These discussions (known as the “Ad Limina Apostolorum” talks or “To the Threshold of the Apostles”) occur every 5 years. Two things will occur in the wake of these talks with the Holy Father. Soon we will have a new archbishop in Philadelphia. There will be changes in the US Catholic Church and in Philadelphia over the next few years.
It’s time to begin a new conversation about our parish.
I recently invited a diverse group of parishioners to prayerfully consider being part of that conversation. We need to discern what the Lord is calling St. Monica Parish to be – and to do – next. I plan to meet with them close to a monthly basis. I have asked them to pray about this, discuss and discern it with their spouses, friends, family, spiritual director, Confessors (and Jesus …yeah talk to Jesus about this too.). I asked them to get me an answer by Thanksgiving. I would like to begin the first conversation in December.
Part of the initial discussion will be to examine what has happened at St. Monica over the past three years. Over the next few weeks, I will review what our parish has done in those “Encounter” areas of Liturgy, Word, and Reaching out to Help Others.
Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our parish, your fellow parishioners and the conversations that we will have. And, as Pope Francis says … “Pray for me.” …… “Don’t forget.”