It is not all that unusual that people will tell me that they find themselves waking up on Sunday morning somewhat less-than-excited about coming to Mass. “Father, it is so the-same-thing week after week, I find my mind wanders, I don’t get much out it, too many times I receive Communion and just keep walking out the door” I will almost always ask them, “When are thinking about coming to church, who do you look forward to seeing” – and I ask that God, Jesus or the priest not be their answer. Almost always the reply is “no one” or “I really don’t know anyone at the parish – I just park, come in, receive Eucharist, and go home.” Continue reading
Several years ago, I wrote a series of pastor columns on aspects of what it means to belong to a parish. If you would like to read the whole series, it can be found here: friarmusings.com/belonging
Where to begin? At the beginning is always a good place – and for Catholics the beginning is Baptism. Each time we enter church it is our tradition to mark ourselves with the Sign of the Cross using water from the holy water fonts. It is a moment to recall the words the priest proclaimed at your Baptism: “I claim you for Christ.” From that moment you belong to Christ and are a member of His people. You belong, not in some abstract way, but in a time and place and with a community of people. Continue reading
I have often mused about the connections of being a welcoming community and hospitality. As part of that musing, I wondered about the distinction between entertaining and hospitality, surmising that it perhaps depends on your role model and the source of your ideas about hospitality. If the model is from Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and Southern Living Magazine – then perhaps “entertaining” is a better description. As a church of believing Christians, it would be best to look to Jesus for models of hospitality. Continue reading
Earlier in the calendar year, here in this column, we talked about belonging as the gateway to a life of faith as an individual, as a family, and as a believing community. While we are prone to think the people of faith are the ones who belong, in fact, it is people who find an abiding sense of belonging to a worshipping community that become people of faith. In fact, that sense of belonging imbues and precedes almost every aspect of community life: faith, worship, stewardship, volunteering, and so much more. In the weeks since our celebration of the Mass of Belonging, consider the way in which people continue to talk about their experience of the Mass. Part of that conversation has been the experience of seeing so many people under one roof, so many voices raised in praise to God, and knowing this is family. Belonging. Continue reading
It is a great passage, a great image, but… I suspect when we hear that word “yoked” a particular image comes to mind. We imagine two or more beasts of burden, a huge twin harness joining them, while they pull the heavily weighted wagon, till the fields, and perform all manner of really hard work. Yet there is some comfort in the idea that the work is shared, the harness adjusted to fit, and together with a kind of family – all geared towards a common mission and purpose. Continue reading
Last week in this column I mused about the connections of being a welcoming community and hospitality. As part of that musing, I wondered about the distinction between entertaining and hospitality, surmising that it perhaps depends on your role model and the source of your ideas about hospitality. If the model is from Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and Southern Living Magazine – then perhaps “entertaining” is a better description. As a church of believing Christians, it would be best to look to Jesus for models of hospitality. Continue reading
I want to renew and continue the conversation we began about belonging in this column space from the beginning of this year. There has been lots of feedback about it — it seems to have struck a deep cord with people. In a previous column I wrote, “The creation of that good soil church begins when each one here begins a conversation with, ‘Hello, my name is….’ and continues each week as the conversation grows, bearing fruit, when someone suggests, ‘You know what we should do?’ Then in the doing, faith grows, purpose becomes clearer, prayer comes more naturally, forgiveness more easily.” Since then, it seems to me, that people are a bit more engaging with people around them, there are some new “pew communities” forming, and people are beginning to ask about the welfare of folks when they are missing from Mass. All signs of the beginning of a deeper belonging. Continue reading
Six weeks ago I started a series in this column space that began to explore what it means to say “I belong to Sacred Heart.” I hope you have been following the flow of musings and thoughts – if not – let me touch upon a few points. There are almost 3,000 households that are registered, but then “registered” is not the kind of belonging we are thinking about. There is a group of 500 (or so) households that volunteer, serve, minister, open parish emails, give in an identifiable way, and contribute to the annual appeal. This smaller group certainly demonstrates more of the characteristics that would seem to point to a greater sense of belonging. But along the way, we made the point that all these great external characteristics are the result of belonging, not the precursor to belonging. Continue reading
Today’s column is the fifth of a six-part series about belonging and engagement as individuals and as a parish. The previous columns have revolved around the primacy and importance of the individual’s sense of and belonging to a community of faith. It was not a discussion about membership, but rather a discussion centered on core, intrinsic dispositions and behaviors of the Christian person. It is “belonging” that is the catalyst that leads to spiritual commitment of the individual. People became spiritually committed because they were part of a spiritually healthy, engaged parish. Continue reading
How do we build a sense of belonging? Today’s column is the fourth of a six-part series about belonging and engagement as individuals and as a parish. Here is where we are in the discussion: although many people would suggest a range of characteristics as being the most critical to have an engaged parish that is “good soil” in the lives of the faithful who call this their spiritual home – many studies have shown that “belonging” is the critical characteristic. There were nine statements that best described people who are spiritually committed and have a sense of belonging to their parish:
- My faith is involved in every aspect of my life.
- Because of my faith, I have meaning and purpose in my life.
- My faith gives me an inner peace.
- l am a person who is spiritually committed.
- I spend time in worship or prayer every day.
- Because of my faith, I have forgiven people who have hurt me deeply.
- My faith has called me to develop my given strengths.
- I will take unpopular stands to defend my faith.
- I speak words of kindness to those in need of encouragement.
Studies show that 18% of people with a faith/church affiliation are spiritually committed. But in parishes in which there is a strong sense of belonging, almost 39% of individuals are spiritually committed! But what about people not in parishes? Can’t they be spiritually committed? Is belonging really critical? That’s a fair question.
We live in an age when we are more likely to hear: “I’m spiritual, but not religious…” meaning they do not belong or affiliate with any organized church. Commentators tell us that this is the “fastest growing segment” in “post-Christian America.” The conclusion is that churches just weren’t “spiritual enough” and should not be surprised at their declining attendance. Yet, there is a huge industry of books, videos, seminary, programs, and the like all focused on deepening individuals’ spiritual lives. It is hard to imagine a time when there has been more emphasis on individual spiritual growth and commitment than is true today. Yet we increasingly hear, “I’m spiritual, but not religious…” Yet….the same studies note that only 5% of people with no faith/church affiliation are spiritually committed.
But if the nine characteristics above are indeed the measure, then only 5% of people without a sense of belonging to a family of faith can truly say “I’m spiritual, but…” and point to the intrinsic effect it has in their lives. Again, it points to the importance of belonging to a community of faith.
Belonging is when people speak of their communities as “family.” Those churches/communities are places where an individual knows he or she is valued – and not just by parish leadership. Places where a person’s gifts are recognized and nurtured to enable the person to make a meaningful contribution and be part of something greater than themselves. Places where their sense of belonging creates the environment that draws people to want to belong. Places where spiritually committed persons come together to make an engaged parish. How do we build a sense of belonging as a family?
I don’t have an answer for that as of yet, but I do know that there are four outcomes that are the most relevant indicators of a parish’s spiritual commitment/engagement: its parishioners express a fuller satisfaction in life, invite others to join them in worship, give generously of their time serving inside and outside the parish, and make giving to their community of faith a priority. One looks at those outcomes, and it can be said, “That is a good soil church. People who plant themselves there take root and blossom.”
How do we build a sense of belonging as a parish? We need to prepare the soil.
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