Over the past year I have been meeting with a group of parishioners about the parish. It has been a wide-ranging discussion about the future, our vision, and such things. One of the topics that came up repeatedly was about “belonging.” Our discussion made us ask, “Have we created a home in this parish where people feel welcomed – but more than that – where they belong?”
Turn the page in this bulletin and take a glance at the final Annual Pastoral Appeal (APA) report for 2014. Thanks to end-of-year donations, we exceeded our goal! That’s exciting and great – and thank you. But this past year of discussion makes me look at the results with different eyes. When I consider the participation results (455 households; 15% of households), it leads me to muse about “belonging” to a parish.
More or less, there are 500 households that open the parish emails. There are about 500 households that volunteer, serve, and minister. There are about 500 households that donate in an identifiable way (envelope or loose check) – and it is about the same number for donating to APA. And if you are wondering, yes, they are mostly the same households.
At a surface level, one has to ask, why is it that the “500” households seem to have a greater sense of participation in the fullness of being church? Is this participation the same as belonging? Can you participate but not have a sense of belonging? I think all people want to know they belong to something greater than themselves and more. We want that for all 2,918 registered households so that lives flourish, folks find fulfillment in their faith, and together we radiate the love of Christ into our community. And so I muse. I ask questions, such as…
Today’s column is the first in a six-part series about “belonging.” It seems to me that today’s gospel reading offers a good jumping off point. When John baptized Jesus, what did that mean? At one level, it prefigured our own baptism, but whereas our baptism is for the forgiveness of original sin, clearly that does not apply to Jesus who, himself, is the source of the forgiveness. John the Baptist was baptizing as a call to repentance, to change, to “belong to” a faithful remnant of people committed to the Covenant with God.
In our Catholic tradition we have holy water fonts at the entrances to the church sanctuary. When we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross upon entering, we are called to remember that during our baptism we were marked with that same sign, while the priest proclaimed “I claim you for Christ.” Now these many years later, as we renew our baptismal promises, we are called again to renew our commitment to the Covenant and to belong to the people of God.
And so I muse about baptism, being a covenant people, and that by our presence and participation we belong. But what does our “belonging” mean? Does it mean we are members of Sacred Heart because we “signed up?” Or does “membership” point to something larger – such as “members” of this diocese, the church universal, and the Body of Christ? The answers to all of the above are hopefully, “yes.” But is “signing up” enough?
Maybe the next characteristic could be those who “signed up” and those who “show up.” But then again, there are lots of folks in attendance who are faithfully here but never “signed up.” There are folks signed up that do not or are not able to “show up” on a regular basis. And there are people in between.
And then there is another characteristic: those who “chip in.” In a perfect world people sign up, show up, and chip in – not with financial contributions alone, but with their gifts, talents, and time with which they help build the kingdom of God. And there are people who “chip in” but prefer more degrees of freedom regarding signing up and showing up. There is an even more fundamental characteristic to consider: “believing in” all that the Church professes to be True, Holy, and Good.
Perhaps there are more characteristics. But you get the point. Is this the meaning of “belonging” – to believe in, sign up, show up, and chip in? People are of every permutation and combination of those characteristics. Who belongs? Who doesn’t? What does it really mean to belong?