In John’s Gospel, just before Jesus begins His Passion, Jesus prays: “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.” On Pentecost, the Archdiocese of St. Louis will announce the parish reconfiguration of the All Things New strategic planning initiative. This day is appropriate because Pentecost is known as the birthday of the Catholic Church. And, for St. Louis anyway, All Things New is a rebirth of our local Church with a greater focus on our mission to evangelize.
Until now, there has been a mixture of anxiety and hope regarding All Things New at the parish level. After Pentecost, the heavy lifting of implementation will begin. We all understand that we have to “be one” Church, but to follow Jesus’ lead, we have to be one as the Father and Jesus are one. This raises the bar substantially and goes beyond the superficial tasks of reorganizing parish councils and other ministries from several different parishes. This means that we actually have to love each other, desire the good for the other person and have an attitude of “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.”
All Things New is our opportunity for 178 independent parishes to become one Catholic Church of St. Louis to reflect God’s love, mercy and forgiveness and be living examples of faith, hope and charity. Instead of parishes competing with each other, we need to complement each other. We need to shed the parochial (narrow) view that has evolved over the years between parishes and leverage our combined faith, knowledge and resources to become the faith powerhouse the Catholic Church was meant to be!
So how do we do this? Start small, keep it simple and build upon each success.
Share a meal. Let’s become friends with each other first before we jump into picking a new parish council. Encourage parishioners to host small house dinner parties or barbecues at their homes with people from other parishes. Let’s get to know each other on a human level first. The foundation of friendship is trust, and the seed of trust is humility. Share funny stories with each other; build trust and friendship. Ministry is more fruitful when the people you minister with are trusted friends who have your back.
Pray together. Attend Mass at each other’s church, but also pray individually in small groups, like the small house parties mentioned above. Take time to share your faith stories with each other. Talk about your relationship with Jesus to others. St. John Paul II said that you have to be evangelized before you can evangelize others. Growing as friends is a good start, but growing together as disciples is next level. If we are not comfortable sharing our faith with each other, how can we expect to help others who don’t know Jesus?
Focus on the good. Parishes have different charisms. Some parishes do some things better than others. Focus on those one or two things that you do very well. Celebrate the small successes. Build a path of holiness for everyone in your parish boundaries. This is includes the inactive, unattached and different cultures in your community. Remember our mission is to evangelize — helping everyone take one step closer to God.
These suggestions also apply to single parish pastorates. Imagine the impact single parish pastorates could have if they had a more coordinated collaboration in the larger communities they serve.
Let’s pray for open minds and open hearts as we continue to build the Church of St. Louis.
David Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County.