What makes a Parish Excellent?
By: Natalie Cornell
Paul Wilkes, author of “Excellent Catholic Parishes,” said he wants Catholic parishes to be “yes” churches instead of “no” churches.
At a recent teleconference workshop for the 66th National Conference for Catechetical Leadership in Jacksonville FL, Wilkes expounded on the difference between these two kinds of parishes.
One always says, “The basic answer is yes; let’s work out the details” while the other bogs people down in rules. He makes clear he isn’t talking about an “anything-goes” kind of mentality, but rather a basic positive attitude.
Wilkes describes an excellent parish as one with “dynamism” and “hands-on people. He said it has parishioners who are helpful and have an attitude of “acceptance.” It takes people where they are. The Prodigal Son’s reception by his father is what responses are like in these kinds of parishes. Wilkes describes “yes” churches as having “passion” unlike a “no” parish which is filled with “beige Catholics” going through the motions.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
How does one develop into an excellent parish and get this “passion”?
Wilkes said to let people understand a life is happier with God in it. He said to think of churches as “missionary outposts” and to address people’s needs. The idea is to relate to people: to see what’s happening with a particular person. Several people responded to Wilkes’ comments about being parishes with “passion.”
Marty Huber, a regional minister of Christian formation for 19 parishes in the Diocese of Richmond, Va., said she feels passion is “what our parishes really need today.” She says Catholics shouldn’t be “mediocre about our faith or to be lukewarm.”
She echoes Wilkes’ call for discerning people’s gifts and said “all of our parishes can be excellent in some ways.
Speaking of Wilkes’ presentation she said, “I liked his emphasis on the Spirit, that it’s not us, it’s really the work of the Spirit – to unleash the Spirit really.” She adds that it’s important for the parish to provide “opportunities” for people so that the Spirit can “touch their lives.”
Mark Nuehring, director of Faith Formation from Diocese of Winona,. Minn., said parishioners have to identify and share their passion for their faith. He added “most Catholics have that but feel somehow handcuffed in not sharing it.”
Kathy Lyons from Assumption Parish in Jacksonville said she wants to encourage people that say, “I can’t do it.” She plans on telling them, “You do have the talent, and you do have the spirituality or gift; that you can do a job.”
Late in an interview Wilkes talked about the role of lay people. Referring to the mandate of the Gospels he said, “If you believe in Christ … you follow him….it’s so apparent are not going to get the numbers of priests we once had. It’s a different church; it’s a different world. Lay people are enormously talented, well-educated, well-intentioned and not to use their services is just like being cold in a room where you have a whole stack of wood.”
What’s the role of prayer in renewing a parish?
“It’s everything,” he said. “Prayer is the umbilical cord. Prayer is our connection with God. And if we don’t have that connection we might be very good at social work, we might have good programs, we might have a big building, we may look good on the surface, but ultimately without that connection it will die. And what’s the whole idea? The whole idea is to be close to God and to serve him in this world. And if you’re not connected … how do you do that? How do you know what he’s asking of you?”
Paul Wilkes has written several books about Catholicism, among them “The Seven Secrets of Successful Catholics. For more information on his work, please visit: www.pastoralsummit.org