Monday, January 30, 2012

Not in our parish

I wonder why our parish leadership did not read this letter, or one similar to it, to us this weekend. There is a SERIOUS assault on our religious liberty going on by the Obama administration. I hope something is mentioned soon. The faithful need to know a) what has happened, and b) how the bishops wish us to proceed.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Church Militant in San Francisco

The West Coast March for Life is making an impact. On a related note, here is an excellent post about how the media lies in its portrayal of the March for Life. They often cite numbers such as hundreds or thousands of marchers when it is clear from roof-top cameras and the testimony of those who attended, that the number in D.C. is over 300,000 and growing. If you get your news only from the mainstream media, you aren't getting the truth. Read about it here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The judge speaks...truth

Until we each take an individual stand, and speak out to our friends, families, and co-workers about abortion, and are able to take the rejection, anger, and resentment that often accompanies voicing the truth, this evil will continue. I fear God and His judgment more than the anger of men.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Did ya know...

All Saints Parish, in collaboration with the local Secular Franciscans, will be offering the Catholicism Series from Fr. Barron's Word on Fire website. Here's a link at our parish website for the promo video: Catholicism Series.

Parishioners in a local Bible study have begun this series, and it's inspiring and informative, and has universal appeal for Catholics and non-Catholics.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Church Militant

I'm sure you've all heard that the Obama administration has mandated, has FORCED the rule that healthcare providers MUST provide abortifacients and contraceptives. As horrible as this is, it has served to unite the faithful. Catholic Vote blogs about it:

We Won't Back Down

I just returned from the March for Life. The young people, the survivors (and don't kid yourself, these young people know that they are truly survivors) were out in force (See video below). As a fellow marcher said, "This is the Church Militant."

No more dithering. It is time. You must choose. Choose life.

Friday, January 20, 2012

"These people are monsters!"

Pray for Catholics in our community (and all over the USA) who work in the healthcare industry. I'm sure you personally have some local friends who work in hospitals and pharmacies. The Obama administration (along with 'Catholic' HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are requiring that healthcare providers make available contraceptives, including abortifacients beginning next August. From Sebelius' statement:

"Beginning August 1, 2012, most new and renewed health plans will be required to cover these services without cost sharing for women across the country.

After evaluating comments, we have decided to add an additional element to the final rule. Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule."

How kind to allow the People of God to 'adapt' to the new rule. The blog Creative Minority Report, intones about the issue. Religious liberty  has taken a huge blow, not to mention millions of pre-born babies who are in more danger than ever. Prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting.

Other coverage:

American Bishops react

Fr. Z blogs on it

Bookworm Room

"We have a year to figure out how to violate our conscience" (National Catholic Register)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Have you seen this?

There's a lovely video of St. Mary's up at the parish website. Do watch.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Come home!

Our parish is again initiating a Catholics Come Home program. These aids are great for those who might want some solid resources, especially if they've been visiting with other Christian groups for awhile. Here's a free online Catholic Bible commentary:

The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide

And here's a listing of Catholic Bible study helps by author Taylor Marshall of Canterbury Tales. His blog is a veritable treasure trove of gentle teaching that explains why the Catholic Church is...well...right.

And here's Logos software for Scripture study. It puts hundreds of books at your fingertips if you feel the hankering to dive into apologetics or have the Church's resources for quick answers to hard questions. It's pricey, but hey, we can dream can't we?

Here's a couple websites that are great for learning and reflection:

Called to Communion (a site that engages with Christians of all types on theology)

The Crucified Rabbi (Taylor Marshall's companion website to his excellent book The Crucified Rabbi. See video below)

And here is Marshall's second book: The Catholic Perspective on Paul. The Kindle versions of his books are only $5.95!

And don't forget this website: Catholics Come Home. Or EWTN, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

And here are two books that are especially helpful to those considering or reconsidering the Catholic Church. Both by author Mike Aquilina, one deals with the ancient history of the Mass and the early believers, and the other is a primer on the Church Fathers (who, btw, are instrumental in causing loads of conversions:

The Mass of the Early Christians

The Fathers of the Church Expanded Edition

There's so much out there! Pray that our parish sees a flood of Catholics coming home soon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Catholic Charities

After the State of Illinois closed down their adoption services, Catholic Charities is moving on, according to this article. A snip:

"The agency intends to strengthen its Catholic identity and become more self-reliant in funding its services."


"The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ended the contracts because the Catholic agencies would not place children in homes of unmarried couples, including homosexual couples and those in civil unions.

The contracts provided the Springfield agency with about half of its revenue, or $5 million per year, the Illinois State Journal-Register reports.

Catholic Charities agencies have served thousands of children and families in Illinois since 1921. Collectively, they handled about 20 percent of the adoption and foster care cases in Illinois."

The government is not such a good partner, hein?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Being versus Nonbeing

Sacred Spaces matter. A lot.

"Christianity places the priority on man's soul transcending his surroundings, not blending with it (a la Zen). Man is large, not small. Churches should be ornamented and highly symbolic, teeming with life, not stark and barren. It all has to do with Being not Nonbeing. The church is a foundation, it's heavy, it imitates the eternal."

And this:

"When one has done away with symbols, theology, and the act of worship, there's little else to inspire a credible work of sacred art or architecture. Piano, like any committed Modernist, is left with little more than a preference for abstraction, technology and some vague nostrums about nature and space."

One more:

"Sacred spaces achieve much of its effect by emphasizing mystery. This is at the core of any religion, in which divine truth is revealed beyond any logical or rational framework. As is often said, God is revealed in mysterious ways, and the purpose of any sacred space is to embody this reality. It is inherent that a secular space is completely counter to this and thus adopts an architectural language devoid of mystery or even ambiguity. Secular spaces instead embrace the language of the engineer..."

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Manifesto--Part Eight

Chapter Five--Outcomes (Part One)

Deacon Dean begins Chapter Five of Effective Church Operational Systems (ECOS) with a summary of all that came before the Strategic Way process was implemented at All Saints Parish. He writes, “After about two years of working together and healing relationships, the leadership team agreed that the next major step forward would be to develop clarity about what it was trying to accomplish.”

In an eight-month process following the two-year process, the leadership team involved the pastoral council, and then, “Finally, the leadership team set up several meetings to allow for maximum input from parishioners.” A final draft of a ‘destination statement’ was issued. Then another process was implemented to draft a summary version and slogan, although only the parish council shared input on those documents.

Spiritual maturity

At this point, the All Saints Parish leadership team “realized that at the root of all their ministries was ultimately helping people grow in spiritual maturity.” This lead to a definition of spiritual maturity that includes nine dimensions of spiritual growth: Conversion, Fellowship, Prayer and Worship, Discipleship and Learning, Discernment, Fruit of the Spirit, Love and Forgiveness, Stewardship, and Evangelization.

Describing the dimension of Love and Forgiveness, Deacon Dean writes, “…Jesus has reconciled us with the Father and in turn entrusts to us the ministry of reconciliation—inviting others into relationship with the Father and extending reconciliation to others. Love naturally flows into forgiveness and reconciliation. ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’”

As Catholics, the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance), instituted by Christ, is of vital importance to our ongoing conversion and sanctification. Of course, only an ordained Catholic priest can administer this sacrament to the faithful. It would seem that in this case, there should have been some clarification of the term ‘reconciliation’ within a Catholic framework, if only to explain to the professors at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary how Catholics understand and use that term.

(Part Eight continues in the following two posts)

The Manifesto -- Part 8 continued

Chapter Five then moves into a lengthy analysis of the situation in the parish. Parishioners may remember doing a spiritual maturity self-assessment survey last year. This was one tool used to assess the parish as a whole. Also, an historical analysis on parish leadership was carried out. Comparisons were done between ‘Mike’, ‘Joan’, ‘Bill’, and Deacon Dean. Ideal scores would be between four and six. Here is a graphic representation from ECOS of the outcome of the historical assessment.

Deacon Dean writes, “The previous two administration’s [sic] leadership can be characterized by high end detailed planning, with strong centralized authority. The process leaned toward mandatory policy and procedure with little room for personal initiative. Pastoral leadership was managerial in the extreme with tight control. Emphasis was on keeping things running smoothly with high control over resources and programs…Lay leadership tended to follow the pattern of pastoral leadership of extreme managerial control.”

Next, Deacon Dean describes the staff in terms of being a team. “Initially the group did no strategic planning together beyond setting dates in the calendar. Trust was virtually non-existent. The group made no effort to serve, empower or assimilate with each other. Between some individuals, animosity was extremely high, paralyzing genuine team development. In July of 2010, the parish leadership team developed a metric for measuring itself as a team. As of July 2010, the last person creating the high levels of animosity left the leadership team, leaving a group of people who have much greater potential at developing as a team.” (See note below)

Scoring the Parish

The ‘team metric’ for leadership became as follows: objectives were named, with levels of success being 1, 3, or 5 (5 being the highest degree of success). A current assessment was implemented. Objectives included: To trust God and each other, to empower each other, to assimilate with each other as a body does to its parts, to manage ourselves with excellence, to serve each other and the community.

The strategy to be successful is based on this statement from the thesis: “The ability to grow as a team has more to do with who is on the team than what the team is doing.” [Emphasis added] Deacon Dean further writes, “Not until July 2010 did the parish leadership team finally consist of people who really can and want to become a team.” (Note: The personnel issues that are being mentioned here and above were the cause of a large rupture at All Saints Parish that has not been healed to this day. In particular, the former youth minister and the faith formation director were dynamic and beloved staff members who worked tirelessly on behalf of parishioners. The manner in which their departures were handled created an upheaval that drove numerous families and individuals to leave the parish. It is difficult to have their many years of service described in the way it has been characterized here.)

Next, the parish leadership conducted a Natural Church Development Survey. This way of assessing a church’s health was developed by a German church growth consultant, Christian A. Schwarz. See a short video here. NCD participants seem to be overwhelmingly Protestant (I did find a website that claims 20 Orthodox congregations have taken the survey or implemented NCD strategies). See here for more information on NCD: NCD International and Natural Church Development.

While most of the reviews on NCD are positive, it is couched within a Protestant perspective, which is natural considering that many Protestant brethren are largely divorced from a sacramental worship, and must seek to engage their members. The sanctifying and life-changing “summit and source” of the Catholic faith—the Eucharist in the Mass--is unavailable to them.

I did find a critical review of NCD that brought up some important points. Written from a Southern Baptist viewpoint, Byron Straughn said, “For example, the first part of NCD (eight character qualities) is telling. There are no references to the Bible and about 25 diagrams/graphs highlighting his extensive survey results. To be fair, this part of his book is about what he discovered about churches with regard to the eight quality characteristics. However, we need to think about the reasoning behind selection of those characteristics. In other words, who came up with the criteria to evaluate churches against these characteristics? The standard used to examine the churches, if determined by Scripture, was never explained. Who could argue with some of them? Some seem fine or even biblical, but they are finally Schwarz’s formulation. These assumed characteristics are not understood to be universally agreed upon or revealed through creation itself. We learn nothing from creation about the church.”

He later says, “Doctrinal differences are blurred or overlooked in NCD. Those that will want to emphasize doctrine are dismissed as “technocratic” or at other times as “spiritualistic”. When Schwarz lists the ten steps to take toward implementation, his first point (“Build spiritual momentum”) is empty when it should be filled with the Gospel and the life-creating power of God’s Word. He admits that the church development is done for the sake of worship, but he has no advice for how or why a congregation is motivated to worship.” [Emphases added]

Quality Characteristics—the Disconnect

In our parish the survey was taken by 30 parishioners, individuals whom parish leadership determined were “involved”, and a Quality Characteristic Profile was generated, indicating strengths and weaknesses of the parish. See here for a graph of the results. Scores above 65 show ‘significant strengths’ and those below 35 reveal ‘significant weaknesses’. The average score for All Saints Parish was 44.

The five highest overall scores were: Integrated Gifts into Ministry (70), Significance of Ministry (63), Leadership Fit (59), Group Relevance (59), and Multiplication of Disciples, Leaders, and Groups (56). The five lowest scores were: Visitor Friendly Church (27), Compassionate Church (31), Seeker-Sensitive Church (35), Innovation and Managing Change (36), and Affirmation and Encouragement (36).

Also included in this chapter are the results of parishioners’ self-assessment of their spiritual maturity. Interestingly, parishioners score themselves quite differently than the Quality Characteristic Profile did. Categories included: Conversion—Following Jesus, Fellowship, Praying and Worshipping God, Discipleship, Discernment, Living the Fruit of the Spirit, Loving God and Neighbor, Stewardship, and Evangelization.

On a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the best), parishioners self-scored in a majority of instances with 4’s, with 3’s being a close second. One of the brightest spots was in the Praying and Worshipping category, in which parishioners scored highly for regular prayer and worship. Another high spot was in the category of Evangelization--large numbers of parishioners said they are learning how to share their faith, do share their faith when asked, and look for opportunities to share their faith. The category of Loving God and Neighbor—Offering Forgiveness also scored very well, according to parishioners. A large majority shared that they are growing in love for God and man, and are consciously seeking ways to forgive, and to live a life reflective of the Church’s teaching.

Clearly there is a disconnect between those who were chosen to take the NCD survey, and the 567 parishioners who responded to the spiritual maturity survey. The NCD profile often scored the parish low in those areas that parishioners scored themselves high, such as being compassionate, encouraging, friendly, and loving.

Another interesting point is that the NCD profile’s highest scores centered on parish leadership and ministry. Parish leaders have a different view of the parish than parishioners, and vice versa.

(Part 3 continues below)

The Manifest -- Part 8 continued again

“Facilities” and Finances

Next, Chapter Five goes over the financial state of the parish. (Note: Please keep in mind that some circumstances have changed since last year.)

Graphs and figures that were used for the parish rollout plan in 2010 are used to illustrate the financial status of the parish. Deacon Dean writes, “At current levels of funding, All Saints Parish cannot properly manage the cost of just one worship site. However, reducing to one site will provide the best situation to build stability and future financial strength. The parish will have to run a capital campaign in the future to properly deal with its needs.” [Emphasis added]

The largest threat to All Saints Parish, according to ECOS, is finances. “The current economic conditions do not offer a great deal of hope for substantive change in the area. The greatest source of finances comes from the mainly elderly population; unfortunately, the parish has over 100 funerals per year. School enrollment is down two-thirds over the past ten years. Gossip, especially in this small town environment, is a huge threat that will require effective communication to counteract. The youth minister who resigned three years ago runs her own youth ministry program out of the local firehouse drawing many parishioners away from the parish youth ministry.”

Speaking further about the need to make hard decisions, he says, “The financial problems of the parish do force some major decisions that will certainly cause negative responses from some, but these decisions are unavoidable. These decision[sic] best position the parish for strength.”

As mentioned, some things have changed in the last several months. Providence Housing Development Corporation withdrew its $475,000 offer to buy the St. Vincent de Paul church and property, and according to parish leadership, the financial situation has turned around. Immaculate Heart of Mary Church is still for sale, however.

The thesis makes clear that other options for the pastoral care of All Saints Parish have not been seriously considered by parish leadership. The focus is on sacrificing churches in order to transform the parish into a Protestant-style community heavy with various lay-run ministries.

A Re-org

As part of the implementation of the Strategic Way, the organizational structure of the parish was rebuilt “from the ground up in a more logical and efficient manner.” What resulted is six “Key Ministry Areas.” They include: Worship, Pastoral Care, Children’s Faith Formation, Teen Faith Formation, Adult Faith Formation, and Support Ministries. These ministry areas are scored again from 1 to 5 (with 5 being best). I will mention only a few points, since the assessment is quite long and evaluates and scores each of the parish ministries and programs.

Many of the objectives are admirable, for instance, the desire to build up and expand the Pro-Life ministry in our parish, and the desire to maintain the Family Faith Formation program, even though the former director was ‘laid off’. However, the enormous amount of time, talent, and perhaps treasure it has taken to transform the organizational structure must be questioned, not to mention the lasting harm that occurred when well-liked and highly respected staff members were removed.

In the area of Worship, Level 1 being “People experience worship mostly just at Mass…”, and Level 5 being “All Liturgies are well planned…People want to come to the liturgies,” the parish is scored at 3.
The strategy for improvement is: “Empower the liturgy committee to become a real planning Liturgy Planning Team with specific roles and responsibility. Since most sacramental celebrations, other than Eucharist, currently do not involve collaborative planning and are usually the sole responsibility of the clergyman, the clergy need to develop a tool for evaluation and developmental improvement.” [Emphases added]

What the Congregation Needs to Hear

Under Worship--Liturgy and Rituals, the parish scores a 2.5. The strategy is for collaborative planning. “The leadership team and Parish Pastoral Council will discuss what messages they think the congregation needs to hear. Pastoral Administrator [sic] will provide preaching schedule eight weeks in advance for three month periods. Preachers will provide the central idea of the sermons, keeping in mind the destination statement, five weeks in advance for same period. Music directors will provide music selections three weeks in advance…” [Emphasis added]

Prayer Ministries are scored at a Level 3, with a strategy to make intercessory prayer a focus. “Strategy: To provide multiple group prayer opportunities that include, but are not limited to adoration, rosary, novenas, and divine mercy devotional. To establish leadership teams for all of these groups and coordinate them under a new intercessory prayer ministry.”

Chapter Five closes with a time frame for complete transformation. “It will take another full year for Leadership Teams to integrate fully the Strategic Way and Leadership Culture into All Saints Parish….It will take an additional two years for the process to become natural and fluid with most ministries. However, for real change to take place in an organization that had habitually functioned with certain patterns that only changed out of necessity, a complete operational system change in five years is a significant accomplishment for a pilot program…While All Saints Parish will benefit from this operational system change, the real value of this successful experiment will be in the ability of transferring the operations system into other parishes.”

Deacon Dean then describes a potential threat. “Another threat to securing full transition into the new operational system will be if the leader of the parish changes. A new leader could easily undo what has been done. However, if the patterns are set strongly enough and the new leadership team is confident and capable of operating the system, they can train the new leader to also work the system. It will require openness and patience from both parties and the Bishop to be aware of appointing the right fit.” [Emphasis added]

(Next: Chapter Six – Final Summary and Future Studies)