‘Amazing Parish’ initiative seeks to cast a wide net
It is called “The Amazing Parish” initiative, an ambitious plan developed by several high-profile U.S. Catholic thinkers, authors and leadership experts to help Catholic church parishes become, well, amazing.
Less than two years old, The Amazing Parish (www. amazingparish.com) describes its mission as giving individual parishes the training and resources to form a small leadership team around the pastor with the goal of having the parish become an evangelizing force that best meets parishioners’ spiritual needs.
“This is not a program but more of a ‘movement,’ and in being a movement, it’s more based on principles than on particulars,” said Father Beau Charbonnet, pastor of St. Angela Merici Parish in Metairie, who was among 600 Catholic priests, deacons, religious and laypersons who attended a recent Amazing Parish conference in Denver. “It’s really nothing new. It just boils down to the call Jesus has for each one of us. We are called to have a missionary heart.”
St. Angela got first look
Father Charbonnet brought with him to the August conference his parochial vicar, Father Marlon Mangubat, Deacon Gil Schmidt, parish CYO director Diane Kratochvil and parish volunteer Eric Broadbridge.
In addition, the Archdiocese of New Orleans sent six representatives to audit the conference in hopes of learning more to determine if it might host a future regional conference in New Orleans.
Those attending for the archdiocese were Dominican Father David Caron, vicar of evangelization; Dominican Father Sergio Serrano, director of Hispanic Apostolate Pastoral Services; Deacon Allen Stevens of St. Peter Claver Parish, New Orleans; Cory Howat, executive director of the Office of Stewardship and Development; Alice Hughes, director of the Office of Religious Education (ORE); and Michael Whitehouse, associate ORE director for adult catechetical formation.
“The point of view is that the parish has to be the locus of life for the church,” Father Caron said. “The parish is where the church comes to life. They shared best practices, but there is no one size that fits all. Their idea is to create a team around the pastor so that it’s not just one person driving the car.”
‘Encounter’ with Jesus
Father Charbonnet said one of the foundational principles he grew to appreciate was that “conversion really happens with an encounter with Christ, and from that personal encounter, one is led toward personal discipleship and then a deeper desire and drive to assist with the discipleship of others.”
Father Charbonnet was struck by The Amazing Parish’s star-studded panel – people such as leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni, authors Curtis Martin, Matthew Kelly and Chris Stefanick, and broadcaster Jeff Cavins – who donated their time.
One question asked in the beginning of the conference hit home with Father Charbonnet: How many people did he have in his parish?
After writing down the number on a sheet of paper, the participants then were asked: “How many of you wrote down the number of registered parishioners in your parish?” The vast majority raised their hands.
“Then we were asked, ‘How many of you wrote down the actual number of households in your geographical boundaries?’” Father Charbonnet said. “They brought home the point of asking what we were doing to get beyond those limits and reach out to the households that were not members of the parish. The final picture they left on the big screen was a picture of Pope Francis and his quote: ‘I want a church that goes out.’
“The thrust of The Amazing Parish conference is to get us outside of our property into the geographic region of our parish and then go even beyond that,” Father Charbonnet said.
Seven ‘amazing’ traits
The movement is based on seven traits of an “amazing” parish: reliance on prayer; an effective leadership team sur- rounding the pastor; a clear vision and plan; a worthy Sunday liturgical experience; compelling and ongoing formation; small-group discipleship; and missionary zeal.
“It was humbling because I see a lot of the good that we do, but at the same time, I see a lot that is not being done,” Father Charbonnet said. “It helps me as a pastor to have a renewed and clarified vision of the mission of the church. It’s exciting and at the same time intimidating. But it confidently presents a challenge that with God’s grace, we can do all things.”
A joint effort
One of the interesting requirements for attending the conference is that the pastor must come with members of his parish – he cannot come on his own, just as lay leaders of the parish cannot come without their pastor.
“Lencioni says that if there is trust, we can be open to conflict without being mastered by conflict,” Father Caron said. “It fosters better communication with the team. It’s all about accountability, internally and externally. We have to call each other to be accountable. This fits in perfectly with our own archdiocesan synod. We have goals and priorities that are tangible and measurable.
“The highlights for me were some of the ‘vision’ questions. How do we make sure it’s mission driving the bus? Why does your parish exist? What are the values your parish must embrace? What must your parish actually do? A lot of parishes are run because of the physical plant that generates most of the money. The team and the pastor have to help set the vision.”
As a development and stewardship leader in the archdiocese, Howat said he liked the approach that each parish can tailor the program based on its own strengths and challenges.
“They want parishes to identify what makes them unique,” Howat said. “The conference was great because each parish took back a lot of great relationships.”
Father Charbonnet said the small group that attended the conference and an extended circle of deacons and parish staff are now watching videos of the main presentations, and then they will “sit down and look how we can move forward.”
Conference planted seeds
“Already my head is brimming with ideas,” he said. “I feel like the Holy Spirit is really beginning to work on all of us in a new way. I really think it comes back to the Holy Father’s words: ‘I want a church that goes out.’ I heard someone say that the Holy Father once told his priests in Argentina to evangelize ‘by shoe leather.’ That means get out there and hit the streets.”
The important thing, however, is that the parish is ready to offer an appropriate welcome and an encounter with Jesus when new people do come to church.
“We have to look at what are people’s experiences at St. Angela from the time they get to the parking lot to the liturgy to the people they meet afterwards,” Father Charbonnet said. “There’s a lot for us to look at. At the same time, I don’t want to get caught up in paralysis by analysis. We want to move on this. Everyone has returned with a real sense of hope and zeal.”
To answer the question: St. Angela currently has 1,866 registered families. Broadbridge is taking a satellite image of the parish to determine how many homes are in the parish’s geographical boundaries.
“We don’t know now, but we’re going to find out soon,” Father Charbonnet said with a laugh.