As parish meetings end, trends emerge from ideas, concerns

| September 18, 2009 | 0 Comments

The fear of losing one’s parish community, the low rate of young people attending Mass, and retaining St. Peter Claver’s unique identity were among the concerns voiced at the last regional parishioner meeting Nov. 5.

Held in the basement of St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, the meeting attracted about 45 Catholics from several parishes.

“We wanted to make sure that the archdiocese did not forget who St. Peter Claver [parish] was,” said parishioner Cedric Waterman.

The meeting was the last of 11 regional parishioner meetings held around the archdiocese since early September. It was a mid-process addition to the nine originally sched­uled meetings, including one for the deaf community at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Min­nea­polis.

Along with a meeting held at Holy Cross in northeast Minneapolis Oct. 13, the meeting at St. Peter Claver was created to accommodate people who typically use public transit.

The task force has spent nearly a year listening to people in all facets of church life, said Father Peter Laird, the archdiocesan vicar general.

Father Laird is task force co-chair with Father John Bauer, rector of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

“[Listening] has served as a way of educating and clarifying the need to act,” Father Laird said.

It’s obvious that people love their parishes, and parishes have their own valued unique personality and role in the archdiocese, he said.

A sense of belonging

St. Peter Claver was founded in 1888 to serve St. Paul’s community of African-American Catholics. Add­ing this last meeting ensured that the voices of African-American Cath­olics were heard, said Task Force member Jim Lundholm-Eades.

“We wanted black Catholics not only to be at the table, but to be comfortable at the table,” he said.

Waterman, 68, has been driving to St. Peter Claver from Apple Valley for Mass for 22 years, since his family moved to the Twin Cities.

“It’s a good mix of people, even though it is considered primarily an Afro-American community,” said Waterman, who attended the meeting with his wife, Hazel.

He hopes that St. Peter Claver can retain its unique role as a place where black Catholics feel comfortable worshipping.

Rita Commodore, 55, has attended St. Peter Claver all of her life, and she loves the way her parish worships. “The worship is alive,” she said. “When you come out of there, you feel like you’ve been to church.”

It’s common to hear gospel music, or for someone to insert “Amen” or “Yes, Jesus” into the priest’s homily, Waterman added.

Commodore said it’s important to her to worship with people like herself. As an African American, she wants to worship with people — of any race — who appreciate the parish’s African American history.

“There’s nowhere else in this archdiocese that you know you can walk into, and you will feel immediately welcomed,” Commodore said.

“The first things [others] see when I walk into [another church] is that I’m a black woman — not ‘there’s a new Catholic here,’” she said. “That can either have a very welcoming aspect to it, or it can be very negative, a negative that’s very palpable, or just real.”

Like many who attended the Nov. 5 meeting, Commodore is concerned about the declining numbers of young people in church across the archdiocese.

“We’re worried about losing our young people, and we’re worried about the revenue we have here — and the two aren’t unrelated,” she said. “The reason a lot of younger people aren’t in church is the same reason a lot of older people aren’t in church: They’re going somewhere else where they feel the Word is made relevant to them.

“I’m not suggesting that we change our values, our morals, but we’ve got to find a way to make it relevant without beating up and condemning people,” she added.

Emerging themes

The meeting at St. Peter Claver was the 127th meeting held by task force members since April to share information about the archdiocese’s current reality and gather ideas from Catholic leaders and parishioners.

Despite the diversity of parishes and life experiences sought by the task force, there were many reoccurring themes that emerged throughout the listening process,  Lundholm-Eades said.

The central themes include:

• The Eucharist and sacraments must be available to every Catholic in the archdiocese.

• Small parishes can be just as vital as larger ones.

• Training and support needs to be available to ensure competent and compassionate leaders in all parish communities.

• Catholics’ desire for more evangelization and outreach.

• Parishes are willing to collaborate with other parishes to strengthen their ministries.

The messages didn’t surprise Jim Lundholm-Eades; what did surprise him was the consistency of the central messages throughout the re­gional parishioner meetings, he said.

“People were very keen on evangelization of those who had fallen away from the church; of non-Catholics; of the young, particularly those after confirmation — 18 to 35 was a group that was mentioned very often: Where are those people, and how can we outreach to them?” he said.

Sharing ideas with people from different parishes was one of the things participants most enjoyed about the meetings, he added. The meetings intentionally mixed people from different parishes, and participants often found common ground with others, despite their different parish communities.

Although all planning process meetings will be finished by mid-December, Catholics can still share their ideas via e-mail, postal mail and the dedicated voice line, Lundholm-Eades said.

The planning task force members  will be given the information compiled from the meetings in Decem­ber, and they will have several months to process it, Lundholm-Eades said. The task force members are not scheduled to give recommendations to Archbishop John Nien­stedt until July 2010.

Recognizing the local church

Father Laird said he is pleased to hear that parishes provide a source of faith, community and belonging — something “that allows people to experience what it is to belong to the mystical body,” he said.

However, “there are challenges before us,” Father Laird said. “A structure that was created for a European immigrant church isn’t necessarily the structure that will assist us going forward.”

He added, “Sometimes the strength is the greatest weakness. Be­cause there is such an intense identification with a particular parish, the sense of belonging to the local church — which is the church of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Min­nea­polis — and the universal church, is sometimes diminished.”

As the task force goes forward, Father Laird and the rest of the task force appreciate the gravity of their decisions, he said.

“Every parish community is be­loved to someone,” he said. “These are very personal decisions.”

Father Laird acknowledges that fears surround the idea of change, but he takes hope in Archbishop Nienstedt’s description of the process at its introduction: an op­por­tunity for the next 100 years.

“Just as for our forebearers, I’m sure it was challenging, intimidating and a bit fearful,” he said. “We have to remember that in the midst of that there were also great opportunities for the church to continue to reach out in every age to those who belong to the mystical body.”

Category: Archdiocese Planning Process