The Real Parish Life in New England

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By Brian Niemiec

Be doers of the Word. Last Sunday’s second reading.  It was a phrase that had been stirring in me for a long time.  My tenure at Boston College had been incredibly life-giving and fulfilling, but I had begun to sense that it was not the ministry I needed to be doing now. I love working on the administrative and strategic level. It was a true joy to meet women and men alive with the faith of Christ, and committed to turning that faith into a life-long ministry.  Yet, God was leading me somewhere else.

Since the last time I wrote for this blog I have not only gotten married, moved apartments, and mostly failed to speak French on our honeymoon, but I also have a new job. I am a pastoral associate at Our Lady Help of Christians and Sacred Heart Parishes in Newton, MA, or the Newton Parish Collaborative as it is also know.  Each of these parishes have their own ministries, personalities, and preferences, but three years ago they officially merged and now share a common pastoral staff of priests and lay associates.

I have been here for about four weeks, and while I am certainly excited about my new ministry, it is quite different than what I expected.  Mostly because, I did not quite know what to expect. The most surprising discovery was the vibrant life that certainly exists in both parishes (albeit in different ways). Masses are well attended, religious education classes are overflowing, and there are seemingly more ministries, committees, and groups between the two parishes than there are stars in the sky.  The pastor is wonderful and deeply passionate about his parishioners, and the rest of the staff is equally caring and competent. In every way we as Church normally judge churches, I found myself a real winner!

Yet even here, in this shining light of Catholic faith, I feel what can only be described as an atrophying tiredness that seems to permeate all New England churches.  Maybe it’s the grandma styled furniture in my new office, or the 1970’s art on the walls, or the old high school and grammar school buildings now leased to secular programs, but there is a feeling that we are still not as life-giving as we could or should be.

The rest of the staff, I think, knows this.  They recently completed a three year pastoral plan, and we have just started discussions about implementation.  I was hired to engage young adults who in the past few years have become an ever smaller presence at masses and in ministries, and the whole collaborative community continues to wrestle with questions of faith, life, and vitality.

I just finished the book, Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish, a book that all parish staffs should be required to read. The lines that struck me the most were about growth. It said that our job is not to grow the Church. God grows the Church. God breathes the life of the Holy Spirit on us, and we grow and are nourished by that life.  We as ministers in the Church, on the other hand, are tasked with removing the obstacles to growth.  Our job is to get rid of all the stuff that keeps people from encountering the truth of Christ’s love, and to build effective tools that facilitate that encounter.  We are to be witnesses to the faith of Jesus Christ, and walk with others in their journey of discipleship.

Four weeks in, and I can already see what a few of these obstacles are, and I’m sure more will become known as I live into this new ministry. One thing I do know; if we are going to remove the obstacles to growth, I can’t do it by sitting here in the office on this ancient Windows XP desktop.  That’s not how Jesus did ministry, and he seemed to be pretty effective. I must be a doer of the Word. So, out I go!

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One thought on “The Real Parish Life in New England”

  1. I too think that the book Rebuilt: The story of a Catholic Parish should be required reading for all parishes. It is an awesome story and here at my parish in Central Texas we are also trying to become an awesome parish, We have a great leader in our pastor.

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