A missionary and maintenance Church

The New Evangelisation is about attitude

I suspect that many priests throw their eyes to Heaven at this stage when they hear the mantra, “We should be a Church of mission not maintenance”. Many, I imagine, are thinking, “We’d be quite happy to do mission if we could find more people to help us with the maintenance!”

We are also warned about a ‘keeping the show on the road’ type of Church. However, given the demanding reality that a significant portion of the population still expect the sacraments, one can see how the work of ‘keeping the show on the road’ is a full time job in itself.

In the microelectronics industry we used the expression ‘sustaining’ to describe the relatively mundane, but vital, work of keeping the factory running smoothly. Then there was the more interesting work of ‘continuous improvement’ which, if you could find the time for it, involved projects to increase efficiency, productivity and yield. Every organisation requires a combination of both types.

So, the pastoral reality in Ireland demands both maintenance and mission. A problem arises when one is sacrificed at the expense of the other. Maintenance is, of course, necessary. I’m reminded of a preacher of whom I heard it said: “a great man in the pulpit but you should have seen the state of the sacristy after him!”

But we could be doing more on the mission front. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

I was in Dublin city centre on Ash Wednesday. The priests in one of the parishes distributed ashes all day in the porch of their church which is located on a busy street. Before I came near the church, I knew something was afoot as I was meeting dozens of people, many of them college students, coming against me wearing ashes.

Contrast that with another church, also located on a busy street, which gave no indication that it was Ash Wednesday or that there was a special lunchtime Mass to suit office workers. However, the following day, when I crossed that same church, there was a professional notice board on the pavement advertising a fundraiser for the church roof.

Yes, the roofs need to be repaired but there’s a problem when we’re more creative in raising money for the roof than reminding people of a significant day in the Christian calendar.

We need both mission and maintenance. There should be no tension between them. The 'New Evangelisation' is about infusing the work of maintenance with a spirit of mission. The sacraments, which are a significant part of the life of a parish, are, mission moments by their very nature anyway.

The 'New Evangelisation’ is about attitude. It means going beyond living the Faith out of habit and routine. It means not assuming that everyone knows it is Ash Wednesday. It means losing the attitude of ‘if they want ashes, they know where to find them’. It means ‘changing vows of rote into an alphabet of flame’.

Our encounter with Christ should be a joyful thing. Pope Francis says evangelisation is about sharing this joy. When we are joyful in our faith, evangelisation becomes natural and authentic because, in the words of Benedict XVI, “a great joy cannot be kept to oneself”.


Bereavement group

I attended a funeral in a parish lately and came across a very simple but useful initiative. It was a parish bereavement group whose work was to provide the light refreshments in the local parish centre on the evening of the reception of the remains in the church.

It struck me as worth mentioning because it was a way for folk, who don’t necessarily want to perform a liturgical role, to meaningfully help others.

The people involved just rolled up their sleeves and got on with it. It relieved the pressure on the mourning family and, for the many who had travelled long distances, it was both welcome and useful.  


Connecting in Lent

I was at a meeting in a conference centre in Dublin recently. I was in a rush to leave at the end as I had another meeting in Cork that afternoon. I decided not to enquire after an elderly religious sister who lived in the convent next door and whom I hadn’t seen in years.  Three days later the good woman passed away suddenly but peacefully in her sleep.

Lent is a good time to fast from our busyness and make an effort to connect with people we haven’t seen in a while.