By Deb Amato, Chief of Staff, Diocese of Lansing
Thursday, May 20, 2021,
Feast of Saint Bernardine of Siena
Lucky 13! That was how many meetings I had the privilege of hosting during the Realign Resources for Mission virtual tour of parishes. I say “lucky” and “privilege” with no sense of irony or sarcasm. Each meeting was a blessing. Each gathering permitted me to listen and to learn from you who clearly love your parish community and obviously care deeply for the future of the Catholic Church in this part of Michigan.
One repeated concern expressed by you regarded the rise of the “nones” in our contemporary society. That is, those among us, especially the young, who reply “none” whenever asked by survey or census to state their religious affiliation. You worry for your children and, if you are my age, your grandchildren too. You want what is best for them and know that includes, at the top of the list, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and his Holy Church.
In fact, I recall one particular meeting where a young woman in her twenties was relaying her opinions on matters ecclesial via a mobile phone to her Mom who was participating in our online discussion. Mom was doing her best to properly relay her daughter’s sentiments. Eventually, the young woman decided to call into the Zoom meeting directly and shared her thoughts about our vision and her parish. It was a really great discussion and very helpful to hear that demographic speak about the elements of the faith that captured her. She spoke about the need for the parish to be active and visible in the community through good service and outreach. She also shared that, as a young person, she doesn’t always feel welcome in parishes she has visited both within, and outside, of our diocese. She encouraged us to be more intentional in our welcoming of young adults and people who don’t look like us. It wasn’t an infallible opinion but it was an invaluable one.
Last week, I outlined what you told us regarding your hopes and fears for the present and future of our diocese and the universal Church. Your views were recorded at all 67 parish meetings. We also received over 1700 pieces of written feedback. Thank you.
Today, I’d like to go through what you had to say specifically about the Realign Resources for Mission process. Rest assured, we heard you. Generally, but with some exceptions:
- You appreciate the Vision, its four principles, and its call to unity;
- You expressed a desire for strong leadership by the Bishop and diocesan staff to move us toward this Vision and get us fully on Mission;
- You know we all need to grow in discipleship;
- You know we need to build strong community and communal life within our parishes
- You know we need to grow our evangelization efforts, going out to seek the lost and invite others by our love and service;
- You know we need to deepen our relationship with Jesus through a shared sacramental life, scripture, prayer and service;
We also heard you tell us that in general, but with some exceptions:
- You want more training and formation in discipleship and evangelization;
- You want to see an invigoration and renewal of active discipleship that turns into more participation, more encounter with Jesus, and more opportunities to grow and serve;
- You want to see more help for pastors and for the staff, but at the same time you want to see more in the way of performance coaching, counseling, management, and performance assurance and human resource management;
- You want to see more personal growth and warmth in parishes and have that expressed in more welcoming parish environments;
- You want to see parish changes managed better than in the past – which has led to a residue of untended wounds and need for healing in individuals and communities;
- You want to see your current community and culture respected, honored and preserved to the extent practical.
So, it seems that we are all open to change. Indeed, the vast majority of us see the need for change. However, we don’t want change just for the sake of change but change that makes sense, has a distinct, intentional purpose and accounts for the feedback that was shared. That’s why we listened. That’s why we hear you. What’s more, I know how you feel. Look at this photograph below.
I’m the one in the baptismal gown! It was captured on May 8, 1960. That’s the day Mom and Dad took me to be baptized at Saint Michael the Archangel in Pontiac. That was our parish. It was founded in 1919. My Mom attended twelve years of school there (Dad was there for nine years and then was kicked out … that’s a story for another day). My parents were married there. I made my first communion there. Grandma’s funeral was there. In 2009, however, just ten years short of its centenary, Saint Michael was merged with two other parishes in order to create a new parish under the patronage of Saint Damien of Molokai. Here it is.
Was I sad? Yes. Of course. Absolutely. Our lived history is a precious thing and should not be disregarded lightly. Did I understand the reasons for the merger? Well, yes. I did. Do such mergers dent or destroy the practice of my Catholic faith? No. My faith is rooted in Jesus Christ and his Holy Church with that beautiful divine relationship sustained by Sacrament and Word. Wherever He is to be found, there I will go. As Simon Peter said to Jesus at the synagogue in Capernaum:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
Last Sunday, Father Gary Koenigsknecht, Pastor of Saint Joseph in Howell, shared this wisdom in his homily:
“Jesus, your Ascension is our Exaltation (from the Opening prayer of Mass). The door of heaven is open for us. We are meant to follow where you have gone before… Jesus puts our eyes on the true goal: Heaven. Jesus will transform us to make the journey and home possible.”
Our true homeland is Heaven. Not Lansing. Not Howell. Not even Pontiac. And if we do allow Jesus to transform us and make that journey to Heaven a reality, we really don’t want to get there alone. We want our parents and our children and our grandchildren to be there with us sharing in that Beatific Vision. What if that means some pruning, even some painful pruning, of our present, slightly withered parish structures in order to cultivate and grow new Christian communities that can blossom and flourish? Then our efforts – together – over these past months and in the crucial months to come will not be in vain. Hence, thank you for talking with us. Let us now continue our conversation. God bless you all.
Yours in Christ,
Chief of Staff
Diocese of Lansing
P.S. Do also watch this week’s video update from David Kerr, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Lansing and fellow member of the Realign Resources for Mission Committee, as he outlines some of the key dates and key meetings that are in the diary for the forthcoming days and weeks.