Parish Pastoral Plan Week 3: Our Parish - Maintenance or Mission?


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Our Parish - Maintenance or Mission?

‘In a maintenance church, the primary concern is for the people you’ve got, keeping them happy. In a missionary church, the primary concern is for the people you don’t have’. This quote is from a fairly recent book – Divine Renovation (2014), written by Fr James Mallon. The book recounts the reform of a Catholic parish in Canada – St Benedict’s, Halifax, Nova Scotia – worth a Google. We will share more about St Benedict’s next week from parishioner, Pina Bernard, who visited that parish last year.

So, in the context of parish, what is the difference between maintenance and mission? The following descriptors may give a sense of the difference. The concept of maintenance usually implies: ‘keeping the ship afloat’, ‘meeting compliances’, ‘responding to routine needs’, ‘more of the same’. Mission or missionary conveys an outward focus seeking to respond to questions such as: ‘who are not here? why are they not here?’, ‘ what relevant needs remain unmet?’, ‘what message and witness have we to share more widely?’. And of course, the most fertile question of all – the benchmark question: ‘WWJD?’ –What Would Jesus Do?


Jesus was truly a person for others. The Gospels make only limited mention of his synagogue visits while they abound with instances of his encounters with people in their daily context. His missionary priority is to the fore especially in Luke 15:4 and Matthew 18:12 where he exhorts leaving the ninety nine who are ‘safe’ to seek out the one who is ‘lost’. What challenges are here presented for us where estimates suggest a weekend attendance approximating one thousand in a parish that most likely has over nine thousand baptised Catholics? Is it possible that many of those who do not attend still remain Catholic at heart but no longer find inner resonance in our institutional practices? How may we hear their voice? How can we provide religious and spiritual options to make holy for them in the Catholic tradition, key events in their lived realities? As an urgency, how do we apply these considerations to our ‘lost generation’ of youth and young adults where parish affiliation rates for the baptised hover around 5 – 6 %?


How can we embrace the ‘field hospital’ model of church advocated by Pope Francis? In a March submission to the 2020 Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic church, Emeritus Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn, Pat Power, asserts: ‘There is a whole body of loyal and dedicated Catholics who have left the church in the past fifty years; many of them tell meI have not abandoned the church, the church has abandoned me.


WHAT IF our review of parish life in the process of plan development helps to re-tweak attitudes and practices to align us more fully with the transforming presence of Jesus in a confused world?


Reflection & Sharing
i. What are your thoughts and feelings about issues raised above?
ii. Do you have any proposals of realistic ways in which our parish might re-connect, at least on special occasions, with some who ‘no longer walk with us’?

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