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NALC Conference

I was honored to be asked to speak at the 2019 North American Lutheran Church conference in Orlando, Florida. I pressented together with Father Steve Pullis, Director of Evangelization, Catechesis and Schools from the Archdiocese of Detroit. We thank Bishop John Bradosky and and Dave Wendel (Assistant to the Bishop) for their encouagement and hospitality.

Contact me if you would like to continue the conversation we had in Orlando. I can be reached at:

[email protected]


610-644-0110, ext. 119

Copies of the notes from talk #1 are here:


Copies of the notes from talk #2 are here:








Parish Models: Parish Staff, Parish Lay Support, Ministers and Ministry

To have an Amazing Parish, the pastor and priests would need a new kind of team supporting them. What would that look like?

All would be paid a just and living wage as defined by Church social teaching. The team includes (but is not limited to) people to lead such critical parish ministries as:

  • Chief of Operations
  • Worship
  • Evangelization
  • Marriage and Family
  • Christian Service
  • Business Manager
  • Religious Education
  • Youth Ministry
  • Facilities
  • Hospitality
  • Technology, Media and Communications
  • Prayer Ministry
  • Charisms and Discipleship
  • Various Other Small Groups

The current Catholic landscape can seem discouraging to threatening. This new kind of pastoral team would provide hope in the midst of these uncertain times. The number of people on the team would be more than many parishes could previously afford. It would include laity, religious brothers and sisters. They would collaborate to unleash the gospel. They would rally around and support each other during this new “apostolic” era.

Greater availability of the sacraments would be possible. The lay faithful would also experience the following:

  • The best of pastoral care.
  • Highest quality liturgical worship. Sunday Masses full or near capacity.
  • Superior spiritual and pastoral formation. This would equip them for their unique task of evangelizing and sanctifying the world.
  • Great catechesis, both for youth and adults
  • Evangelical and pastoral pre-marriage preparation
  • Marriage follow-up and enrichment
  • Ongoing care for the domestic church (the family)
  • Small group ministry

The Church has come under scrutiny where is has been slow to act in issues of diversity. Diversity and unity are a most powerful witness. This is especially the case among younger people. Many are scandalized by our all too often lack of diversity and unity. The ministries above would naturally lead to more diverse parishes. This would offer the opportunity for much-needed healing.

Christ alone can rescue the world from the powers of Sin and Death. A thriving parish family provides easy entry points to an initial connection to Christ. This provides an on-ramp for people to meet Jesus in a comfortable, non-threatening way. It offers opportunities for them to meet the power of the Holy Spirit. This would be especially necessary for the most vulnerable who have not encountered Christ or any kind of religion.

Many of the ideas I have presented above come from a white paper written by Detroit priest Father John Riccardo. He is the founder and director of Acts XXIX. I haven’t met Father John. I have met a colleague of his: Father Stephen Pullis, Director of Evangelization, Catechesis and Schools, Archdiocese of Detroit. Father Stephen and I had the honor of presenting to the national conference of the North American Lutheran Church in 2019. Father Stephen spoke about the “Unleash The Gospel” initiative in Detroit. From this initiative, the idea of Acts XXIX was born.

Father Riccardo doesn’t consider himself an expert in parish renewal. Yet, his former parish was known for its vibrant ministries. Father Riccardo had a popular, weekly radio program, Christ Is the Answer, on EWTN’s Ann Arbor-based station, Ave Maria Radio. He and his team have developed an approach to evangelization. It is a paradigm that they show and teach at parishes. The parish can then mold it to fit their culture. Acts XXIX seems to be gaining traction (They’re booked through 2022). His thoughts merit consideration and discussion.

There are other initiatives out there. Next week, I would like to present some other crazy ideas. I’ll propose how a parish might reach out beyond their parish buildings and perhaps engage thousands of people in an effective way.



Discipleship and Thresholds - Part 3

Discipleship is at the center of Catholic parish life. It’s the clear order – “The Great Commission” - given to us by Jesus Christ himself in Matthew 28:16-20:

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

One of the most important “discipleship” groups is our young people. Parents and grandparents are concerned about their children’s/grandchildren’s lack of interest in church, religion, Mass, etc.. There’s has been good, quality research into this topic in recent years.** Findings are quite interesting. The Pew Research Center’s studies on religion have not shown a rosy picture of church future, church attendance of young people. This was already prophesized by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

“Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world – that let God in.”

As a counter, some people have pointed to the “success” of youth and young adult events such as Steubenville Conferences, World Youth Day and Seek. People claim, “Look at how many young people attend. Isn’t this a move of the Holy Spirit among our young people? Well, yes… and no. For example, World Youth Day was initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985. Its concept was influenced by the Light-Life Movement that existed in Poland since the 1960s. At this time, young adults celebrated over 13 “days of community” at Catholic summer camps.”

World Youth Day is about encouraging Catholic youth. It gives them the opportunity to attend Mass, receive catechesis, share their faith with other like-minded peers and grow stronger in their faith. (Personal note: I attended WYD as a chaperone in Toronto in 2002 and in Cologne in 2004). It was held in Sydney, Australia in 2008. A few years after that event, Andrew Singleton wrote: “The Impact of World Youth Day on Religious Practice – A School of Political and Social Inquiry” (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, Online publication date: 04 May 2011). Andrew wrote: “WYD is an audacious initiative of globalized Catholic ministry to youth. Among its many aims is the desire to invigorate and further deepen the faith of young people. Elements such as the experience of community solidarity, religious instruction, worship, and religious experiences could all lend themselves to changes in religious practice post-WYD. However, little research in English has been conducted on WYD generally, and specifically on the impact participation has on the faith of attenders. Little research has been conducted on the ways in which specific religious encounters shape the trajectories of teen and young adult religion. I sought to investigate what impact attendance at such an event has on indicating an increase in attendance at Mass.”

For example, in 2009, Trinitapoli and Vaisey (p. 132–3) found that mission trips predict ‘increases in attendance at religious services … and prayer’. It is not clear, however, which dimensions of the trip (bonding with others, the religious preparations, a sense that God is present) are conducive to the change. Singleton’s article investigated the impact participation at this event had on Mass attendance specifically post-WYD. Data were from a representative online survey conducted five months after the event among registered 2,483 English-speaking attendees. Although open to all, the main target group of WYD is Catholic youth aged 15–35. His research probably reflected this.

The study revealed that change in faith practices is most likely among those with moderately high levels of pre-WYD religious practice, rather than those with the lowest or highest pre-WYD levels of religious practice. WYD is most efficacious for those whose commitment is moderately high, rather than for the least committed Catholic.

Given the cost and commitment required to travel from overseas (to Australia for example), it is expected these overseas visitors, with long distances to travel and from poorer countries, would be on average more religious than their more local counterparts. Why make the journey if not really committed? In addition, the odds of attending Mass more post-WYD increases if most of the person’s friends also attend Mass.

Next week I want to look a little more into these Youth/young adult events, present first-hand testimonies from these young people about their experiences and examine key implications that these have especially to parents and other adults.

(** Personal correction: An apology and credit to Sherry Weddell concerning last week’s insights. Although what I articulated was a joint effort between her and Catherine, the majority of the work and many of the conclusions outlined were initially Sherry’s work.)

Homily: 8th Sunday Ordinary Time

We’ve heard some challenging Gospels over the past last two weeks. Somebody slaps you? Hand them your coat. You doing well? You got some money in your pocket? Woe to you. If Jesus is your friend, he sure has a funny way of expressing it. But we can take consolation in the definition of friendship and love from St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas says that love is “wishing the good for the other person.”

The First Reading today from Sirach and the Gospel make the distinction between discerning/evaluating on the one hand, and prejudice/rash judgement on the other. Priests, spiritual directors, counselors and parents need to be especially careful with this. If you DON’T judge harshly when it’s called for, the person won’t grow and situation could get worse. If you do it incorrectly and damage a bruised reed or squelch the smoldering wick, it might takes years for a person to recover from just one hurtful statement that was carelessly said.

To determine what to say, you need to ask yourself some questions. What’s your motivation? What’s your standard on which you base your judgement?

The Methodist Church in the U.S. dates back to 1736 when John and Charles Wesley came to the New World to spread the movement they began as students in England.

“As United Methodists, we have an obligation to bear a faithful Christian witness to Jesus Christ, the living reality at the center of the Church’s life and witness. To fulfill this obligation, we reflect critically on our biblical and theological inheritance, striving to express faithfully the witness we make in our own time.”

That got challenged this past week. As one writer in First Things reported:

“By the time the General Council concluded its business on Tuesday, it had sent shockwaves through the United Methodist Church. Many Methodists in various conferences had assumed that the One Church Plan, which had the backing of the majority of the Council of Bishops, would ultimately prevail. This plan would have maintained institutional unity by allowing for doctrinal and ecclesial diversity

Instead, the evangelical-international coalition of General Conference delegates held together and defeated the One Church Plan—both in the legislative session on Monday and the plenary session on Tuesday. In its place, this coalition pushed through the Traditional Plan, which upholds the Book of Discipline’s current teaching.

At issue is the United Methodist Church’s beliefs on the human person, human anthropology, the role, definition and interpretation of the Bible and how this plays out in complex ways in contemporary society. They’re making judgements. It is so contentious, that they are talking about an all-out schism in the UMC.

Something similar already happened in the Lutheran Church about ten years ago. The North American Lutheran Church was constituted on August 27, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio, at a Convocation organized by the church reform movement called Lutheran CORE.

The NALC is “a church family committed to the authority of the Bible as the inspired Word of God. In keeping with the Lutheran Confessions, we believe all doctrines should and must be judged by the teaching of Scripture.”

That’s a judgement. Members of various Lutheran churches felt that this was not being followed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. So they left and founded the NALC.

In their desire to be faithful followers of Christ the NALC stated that they want to be “committed to moving away from a solely institutional understanding of the Church, to the Bible’s commission to be a community of followers of Jesus who focus on being disciples and making disciples.” Thus they “developed an initiative or strategy called “Life-to-Life Discipleship”!

Why do I tell you this?

The NALC has been talking about discipleship for the past few years. They had been working with Sherry Weddell from the Catholic outfit, Catherine of Siena Institute, examining her book “Forming Intentional Disciples.” They asked her where discipleship and service and spiritual renewal was happening in the US. She said, “Talk to Detroit.’ A lot is of remarkable things are happening in the midst of a decimated city.

In March of 2014 Archbishop Allen Vigneron, of Detroit announced a year of prayer for a new Pentecost. From that has stemmed a remarkable initiative in Detroit called Unleash The Gospel. There is a spiritual and pastoral renewal happening in Detroit that is having a profound effect in a city that has been economically, socially, politically devastated since the collapse of the US car industry.

As Archbishop Vigneron wrote, “Over the last three years we, God’s family in the Church of Detroit, have already been experiencing a spiritual renewal as we have prepared and strategized for a missionary transformation of the Archdiocese.“

Image result for picture of : Catherine Cooledge Siena Institute

They also were talking to Sherry and her assistant Catherine Cooledge about Sherry’s other book, “Forming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.” They asked, “Are there’s any parishes where they are doing this?” Catherine said, “Well, there’s this small parish in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia…..”

And so that’s how two Catholic priests, Fr. Steve Pullis, Director of Evangelization, Catechesis & Schools and the Pastor of St. Monica Berwyn, ended up presenting and talking for several days to a bunch of Lutherans.

On a panel discussion “judgement” was a central theme.” What is the Bible? Why is the Bible? Is the Bible really inerrant? Who says so? Can you prove that? Do we need sacraments? If so, what is marriage?

We discussed that fact that analysis, discernment and proper judgement needs to be open minded, coachable, humble, docile. It has to have a spiritual character that is animated and guided by THE Holy Spirit. Finally - and here is THE sticking point - it absolutely needs to be grounded in truth.

There are a lot of opinions flying around the United Stated today about religion, gender, economics, information …. A lot of people are saying a lot of things and claim that they are speaking the truth. What is the motivation behind the measurement they’re using? What is the standard that keeps you going straight ahead?

Addendum. Several years ago Regnum Christi/Legionnaires of Christ were devastated when it was discovered that their founder had been living a double life. For the next several years, they dug to try and find “the truth” about who they were and why they were. The experience was outlined in the book, The Quest For The Core. I found it a fascinating book. In my opinion, something like this needs to be written about “the truth” concerning (arch)diocesan priesthood and (arch)diocesan and parish spirituality.