Reflection on ‘Leading a Missionary Parish’, Session 1

Last Thursday night 2nd July I attended (via zoom) a seminar called Leading a Missionary Parish. The first speaker was Fr. Stephen Langridge. He is parish priest of St Elizabeth of Portugal Parish, Richmond, UK, and an associate of the Divine Renovation parish renewal. When he commenced at his parish the average age was early 60’s. The average is now late 20’s.

He began with the question is the parish maintenance or mission? He said that both are needed. The question is how to engage people? The characteristics of a missionary parish is that it is outward focused and enjoys greater engagement from its members. He spoke about the importance of how a parish structured itself. If it is not structured correctly then we can create consumers not disciples. One day President Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral. He encountered a janitor and asked him what he was doing. The janitor replied, ‘I am helping to put a man on the moon.’ This story was shared as an example of the mindset that parishes need to take on. It is about working together to achieve a common missionary goal rather than trying to meet everybody’s individual preferences. The passage from the prophet Ezekiel was referred to. Ezekiel is in the valley of dry bones and is asked the question can these bones live? (Ezekiel 37:1-3). The Lord was asking Ezekiel to look and see what he could do. That is our task as parishes, to recover the sense that things can be different.

The question was raised how we change parish communities from being consumers to being disciples. The answer lies in how we see ourselves as members of the parish. Do we see ourselves as hosts or guests? The host is the one who has a deep sense of loyalty to the parish community they belong to and seek to live out their baptismal vocation by serving that community in some active capacity.

Fr. Langridge went on to speak about our Sunday experiences. He raised the question, ‘what is it like for someone who visits our Church? What sort of welcome do people have when they come to our Church? For example, do we assume that newcomers know where the newsletters are? Most people will decide within 7 minutes of walking into a Church as to whether they want to return. Most outsiders will check out our websites. I believe that this is true as this forms most of our wedding enquiries here at St Joseph’s Malvern. We were left with a few questions to ponder about our parish websites. Are they for the insider or the outsider? Is there a section for the newcomer? The matter of homilies was also touched upon. Are the homilies preached for the insider or the outsider?

When asked how he managed the change in his parish Fr Langridge spoke about the importance of bringing everyone on board. He said that initially when there was an influx of young people coming to the parish regular parishioners wanted to know who they were? One way of responding to this was by organizing parish functions where the younger parishioners were asked to serve the older parishioners.

Overall, I found the session to be worthwhile and look forward to the next session by a different presenter on Thursday evening 16th July.

Fr. Alan Gibson

You can view a recording of this session here.