Movements & Parishes: Great Together?

Happy Feast of the Visitation. RC2 notes with interest that yesterday B16 encouraged the Italian bishops to make their parishes forces of evangelization and missionary zeal, making use of every means at their disposal. To that end, he recommended, "It is very important . . . that communion be reinforced between the parish structures and the various charismatic realities that have arisen in the last decades, amply present in Italy, so that the mission reaches all realms of life."

That parishes and the new movements are not antithetical realities RC2 takes as a given, but it remains the case nevertheless that exactly how the two can work together has yet to be worked out. In close to 20 years observing this relationship (from the perspective of membership in a new movement), she has witnessed instances of fruitful collaboration, but also plenty of occasion for grievance on both sides.

On the one hand she has seen on the part of pastors and DRE's plenty of undue suspicion and clericalism. (RC2 knows of a case, for example, in which a pastor became outraged when he discovered a parishioner --a movement member-- was hosting a Bible study in her own home without his permission! Excuse me, Fr., but do other parishioners need to clear their private activities with you, too --or only the ones who wish to grow in their faith? Is it ok if my husband & I see a movie Friday night? The example is extreme, but the attitude is prevalent).

On the other hand, it must be annoying in the extreme to be giving yourself without measure and with little thanks to a parish for years, only to have a family move into the parish and introduce themselves with the offer, "We're x members, and we'd love to help get this parish in shape." Rare is the pastor or DRE who wouldn't think, "What am I, chopped liver?" when so confronted. And for every movement member who comes on too strong, there are others who make the pastor wonder what they're up to. "Are you a member of X?" he asks. And there's a moment of hesitation. It may indicate nothing more sinister than a desire not to be pigeonholed before one is even known, but in that moment's silence is the death of the pastor's trust.

A little charity and the shared goal of evangelization can overcome these missteps, surely.

Perhaps more interesting is the question of how the parishes will or should evolve. They are designed to meet the spiritual needs of a geographical community, but how well do they work in urban areas where increasingly people (who bother to go to Church) are willing to drive to the parish that has a favorite pastor, a favored rite, a favored style of music, or an activity or community where they feel more at home? It seems to RC2 that this is one area in which B16's caution that structures mustn't outlive their usefulness and JPG's call in Ecclesia in America for "a commitment not to a re-evangelization but to a new evangelization — new in ardor, methods and expression” could fruitfully be born in mind. She is not calling for the abolition of parishes, but for a willingness to think beyond what has always been done.

It's not her idea, by the way. It comes from the aforementioned post-synodal exhortation on the Church in the Americas. In the section on renewing parish life, JPG pointed out (and an exhortation summarizes the consensus of the synod) that especially in urban areas it is impossible for the parish to adequately attend to all the members of a parish in such a way that they feel themselves to be part of a Christian community. The Pope suggests:

"One way of renewing parishes, especially urgent for parishes in large cities, might be to consider the parish as a community of communities and movements. (141) It seems timely therefore to form ecclesial communities and groups of a size that allows for true human relationships. This will make it possible to live communion more intensely, ensuring that it is fostered not only “ad intra”, but also with the parish communities to which such groups belong, and with the entire diocesan and universal Church. In such a human context, it will be easier to gather to hear the word of God, to reflect on the range of human problems in the light of this word, and gradually to make responsible decisions inspired by the all-embracing love of Christ. (142) The institution of the parish, thus renewed, “can be the source of great hope. It can gather people in community, assist family life, overcome the sense of anonymity, welcome people and help them to be involved in their neighborhood and in society”. (143) In this way, every parish, and especially city parishes, can promote nowadays a more person-centered evangelization and better cooperate with other social, educational and community work. (144)"

This is running long, so RC2 will break here with a recommendation that we read or re-read Ecclesia in America. Next post, a few modest suggestions about implementation.