Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We have begun a process of pastoral planning.
We’re about to cross two milestones. 1) This year, for the first time since the early 1960s, the Archdiocese of St. Louis will report fewer than 500,000 Catholics. 2) In the next few years we will hit the point where we have fewer active diocesan priests than we have parishes. It’s time for us to step back and think about where we are demographically.
The Church is a living organism — not a set of buildings — and the purpose of that living organism is to evangelize, to share the Good News with others. We’ve been very good at keeping our buildings open and our programs going. But we’ve not yet gotten very good at evangelization. How do we equip ourselves better for that mission? It’s time for us to step back and think about where we are organizationally.
The earliest Church wrote the Gospels to proclaim the Good News. Afterward, the Church defined the Creeds to clarify the Good News — exactly what it meant and didn’t mean. Then the Church built churches to make the Good News visible in bricks and mortar. The Church built schools and hospitals, to make the Good News practical. The Church has always stepped to the plate to proclaim the Gospel according to the needs of the time. The question is: what do we most need to do today to proclaim the Good News?
We’ve tended to build buildings and multiply programs. But those strategies are no longer hitting the mark. The steady decline in numbers over the last several decades has been telling us that: fewer baptisms, fewer weddings, fewer parishioners, lower Mass attendance rates.
But that’s not the whole story. Every year we also set new records for generosity. And we don’t just give money, we give a tremendous amount of time and energy to our parishes and schools. We are almost 500,000 strong. Think of what would happen if we all moved in one direction to boycott something or support something! We have an unparalleled capacity to make things happen.
Perhaps the key threat these days isn’t a lack of energy, but dissipation. Dissipation happens when energy gets scattered rather than concentrated. And that’s what it feels like is happening these days: we are becoming physically, psychologically, and spiritually scattered. What would it mean to re-focus our energy?
That’s why we’re engaging in pastoral planning: because we need to decide how to concentrate the tremendous energies we have at our disposal in the archdiocese. And that’s an exciting prospect!
Good pastoral planning needs the prayer and input of everyone. So I ask for your prayer, and I ask for your input. This living organism — the Church, us! — exists to share the Good News with every person on earth. What do we need to do that today?