Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year, With New Hopes and Dreams

The sometimes-reader of this blog might be happy to know that one of my new year's resolutions is to approach what is found here in a new and different way. More conversational; more sharing of stories and observations from the people I meet along the way; less long, somewhat stilted reflections; more of something like I'm standing at the back door (friends always come to the back door, my mother often told me) propping it open while talking on the phone. Mind you, if you ever really did find me at home, you'd have to slop through the mud to get to the back door and I wouldn't make you do that! I might, however, lead you through the garage door, the contemporary equivalent if there ever was one.

I pray your new year is filled with many hopes and dreams, and that you'll share a few of those here as we begin 2010 together.

Blessing and peace to you and all you serve,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Building on What is Already Wonderful

One of the important insights from the Gallup studies on engagement is that rather than dwelling on what is not working, in our parishes or in our own lives, we will do better to focus on what is already working wonderfully and build on it. I am amazed at how this seemingly small thought is changing my thinking and the way in which I look at my life, my parish, and my world.

Isn't it possible that the things that lead others to our parishes, the bright spots of life and love, the ways in which people care for each other and the needs of our world that often go unnoticed, are the very things that have potential for development and celebration?

The same is surely true of our personal lives, at home, in our parishes, in our community. When I really reflect on the talents God has given me, I realize there is so much I can do by developing and offering them, why focus on what I don't do well, on what I don't have?

There is much in our society that says "fix your weaknesses; resources are scarce; hold tight to what you have and you might be able to survive the moment." Christ says instead, "I have come that you might have life, life to the full."

Focusing and building on the many ways in which we are blessed, in our lives and in our parishes, is a much more sacred way to live. I begin this day with a prayer of gratitude, asking the Holy Spirit to guide my mind and heart so that I may recognize opportunities to build on what is already wonderful, to bring the beauty and strength of Christ's presence to those whom I encounter. What do you think?

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Year's in Autumn

We've begun the autumn flurry of planning, beginning new processes, resuming programs, and all that comprises parish life in the United States (note, my friends in Australia and elsewhere that I have learned not to call this season 'fall' recognizing that not everyone has trees that drop their leaves in the autumn). This is for many a time of renewed hope and of resolutions. In many ways, it is like programmatic new year's. While in our personal lives we celebrate New Year's day on January 1, with its accompanying promises to eat better, live healthier and exercise, programmatic new year's in our parishes is the time in which we re-examine practices, recruit and train new people to join us in ministry, and make resolutions to focus on the big picture rather than getting stuck in the small stuff.

This week resumed my visits to dioceses and parishes throughout the U.S. after three weeks at home. The week began with the International Catholic Stewardship Council's conference, with 700 of us gathered in Dallas for workshops, networking, and gathering of resources. In the coming weeks, I will visit Lexington, Salt Lake City, New York, Owensboro and Wichita. I look forward to seeing many of you there, and hope we'll find much to share as we celebrate "new year's" in autumn. What are your plans for the new year in your parish? What do you hold on to that is of value in parish life? What needs to be changed? Who inspires you to stick with it when the going becomes difficult? Who do you inspire? What do you think?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Googley Church in Church

The newest issue of Church magazine just arrived, and is now online as well. It features the article Dan Mulhall and I wrote together, titled "Building a Google-y Church," and I am including the link here:

I find it interesting (though none of us should be surprised, if we pay attention to developments in other segments of life and experience) that the article found its way into what turns out to be the last issue of Church. Jarvis notes in "What Would Google Do" and in his blog entries ( the frailty of traditional print media. Pastoral ministry journals are not exempt from the growing need for electronic communications as a means for reaching people today.

It is encouraging to see universities, seminaries and diocesan offices utilizing distance learning to reach those who are miles away from their campuses. Web sites like serve as a central point for finding quality resources, in ways that might have been limited to conference exhibit halls in the past. Most youth ministers use Facebook or have their own web-based social networking mechanism. We seem to be learning how to use technology to enhance the personal relationship-building that is at the foundation of ministry. Still, there is much more to consider, for example, building electronic communications that are much less one-way "me talking at you" and much more "could we talk about this?" in nature.

What do you think? What are you doing to enhance or build ministry within your parish or diocese through effective utlization of contemporary communications media?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Meeting Spiritual Needs

When I first talked with Al Winseman about the studies on engagement, and later, when I read Growing an Engaged Church book for the first time, I was struck by the knowledge that when people are coming into a relationship with a parish one of the first things they are asking is "Will my spiritual needs be met?" This makes sense, of course, particularly in people who are accustomed to discerning among a plethora of choices for everything from the mundane to this most important element of life. Surely this question among those who are seeking a parish (whether due to a move, as the person is coming out of a time of active disengagement, or when an individual is coming to faith for the first time).

We have an abiding belief that no matter what the need, a relationship with Christ, lived out in the community of the Church, particularly in regular participation in the Eucharist, will satisfy any hunger or spiritual need. The question is, would one who is coming to your parish for the first time recognize there what (Whom) they seek?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Learning from Google and Others

My last entry introduced the article Dan Mulhall and I contributed to the latest (and last) issue of Church magazine, in which we apply the rules Jeff Jarvis developed in "What Would Google Do?" to the Church. A question that seems to be unspoken in the article and in conversations with pastoral leaders in the last few months is, "Is there any value or potential benefit in listening to the experience of Google, Gallup, or any other business? We're talking Church, not business. We think theologically, not in terms of 'the bottom line." Or as one person noted recently, "we're talking souls, not sales."

Sure, our bottom line is different from that of a business. Still, we have much to learn from those who observe the way people respond to organizations, whether for-profit or for-faith. We don't throw theology out the door, but we do allow learning from contemporary research and observation in the window, to inform our dialogue as we seek beneficial pastoral practice.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Googley Church?

Jeff Jarvis has written a fascinating book called "What Would Google Do?" that explores Google's success as a sign of the ways in which people interact with institutions, organizations and businesses. He develops rules based on his observations of Google's practices, and applies them to sectors of business and public life, from education to the cable company, asking essentially, "What Would Google Do?"

Dan Mulhall and I began talking in an email one day about Jarvis' insights, and before long we began asking ourselves what would happen if Church leaders learned from social observers like Jarvis as we develop pastoral practice now and in the future? Our conversation led us to write an article that will appear in the coming issue of Church magazine. We wrote the article hoping to foster conversation among pastoral leaders, and invite people to share their thoughts, hopes, concerns and dreams here, in this blog.

As we begin this new conversation, think about (and share, please, if you would) what you believe contributes to parish life that fosters discipleship lived in mission. There are many studies that point to various elements of our communal life together. One or more of them may have made a real difference in your thinking or practice. Share your thoughts and experiences here. Dan and I will pepper the conversation in the next few weeks with our own thoughts. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Being Church

I just returned from three weeks in Australia. Our events were wonderful experiences of sharing together our love of Christ and the Church and our desire to serve the Lord with gladness as disciples and stewards. We found that, while each parish or diocese has its particular circumstances, what we hold in common is indeed very powerful -- God's love for us in Christ through the Spirit!

My time in Townsville, Brisbane, Sydney, and Campbelltown was truly a blessing. Let us connect and stay connected in all the ways we are able, including this little blog, no matter where we live. We have much to learn from one another, and so much to celebrate.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Finding Hope

Just returning from time with people in the dioceses of Joliet, IL and Winona, MN, I am struck by the way we can find the hope of Christ when we are with each other. In both groups, there were moments of serious conversation, but also giggles, smiles, and promises to stay connected in support of one another. How wonderful that now, through the availability of email, cell phones and blogs we are able to be a community of people, no matter how many miles or years of experience may separate us.

What brings you hope? How are you supported by another in ministry? How do you support others in ministry?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Whole Parish

Almost a year ago, my husband, daughter and I moved to Indianapolis; my husband changed offices within the same company, but of course the people and projects here are different from those that were part of his life in Cincinnati; our daughter began college; we found a smaller house with less yard to maintain, but a third-car garage for Steve's woodshop; I left the staff of the parish that had been my life for the last twelve years, and began writing and speaking full-time. We have experienced much change, most of it good; we have found the truth in the fact that "good stress" is still stress; and I have learned much about the role of the faith community in my life as a person, and as a person of ministry.

The General Directory for Catechesis says "The Christian community is in herself living catechesis." This past year has led me to a deeper appreciation of this statement. Our Catholic community life is rich and diverse; we experience the mysteries of God's love for us embodied in the flesh and blood of Christ in the Eucharist and the flesh and blood of the people who are the Body of Christ.

We who share responsibility for shaping life within our parish or diocese will do well to reflect on the formative nature of the community, and to find opportunities to enhance our life together as Christ's people, so that the whole parish may be a living witness to Christ's loving presence in our world.

What do you think? What does your experience tell you?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Engagement and Strengths

It seems like everyone is talking about engagement and strengths these days. Maybe the interest is being generated through diocesan days. Perhaps it's the up-coming NCCL conference where the participants have been sent Living Your Strengths books and have been asked to do StrengthsFinder in advance, and where general sessions will be devoted to these two important topics. Or maybe the "word" among parish and diocesan leaders is spreading, that those who are fostering engagement and are helping people to discover their God-given talents are finding new life and renewed energy as a result. Whatever the reason, it is exciting to be part of this process in the Church.

Recently I talked with a friend and colleague about all of this. I explained that becoming more aware of my own talents and intentionally developing and offering them has changed my life. His first response was, "Wait! I think I know you well enough to know that you've always been pretty self-aware and reflective. Now you're telling me that an online questionnaire really made a difference?" The truth is, it has! It wasn't that I was surprised by my list of my Top 5 themes of talent, but seeing them in print, and reflecting on my experience of these talents helped me to really appreciate the gifts God has given me, and I was much more understanding of myself about the things that I don't do as well -- the task has been to find ways to operate from the best of who I am, and to partner with others to accomplish what needs to be done that requires gifts that I don't have in as great a degree. What a wonderful way to look at life, and to celebrate who we are as children of God!

So I am anxious to head to Dearborn for NCCL. I look forward to seeing old friends and sharing our stories of our talents. I anticipate with joy the opportunity to share with others my passion for building and enhancing engagement in our parishes and dioceses, and I am eager to hear your thoughts about all of this.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Difference Does it Make?

Those of us who have experienced or are experiencing a deeply engaged parish, one in which people really feel they belong, know the difference engagement makes. Often, though, it takes a story or two to paint the picture of engagement for others.

What difference does belonging make in your life? Share your story here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grow and Go!

I have just returned from Green Bay, WI followed by Sacramento, CA. It would seem at first glance that these are two very different places, yet the folks in both expressed similar dreams and hopes for their people, and similar desires to be effective leaders at this time in our Church's life. Wonderfully, people in both places also said it seems to them that we are at a graced moment in time; while there are obvious and many challenges in our parishes and dioceses, there also seems a renewed life and focus that can be of benefit in the coming months and years.

People spoke of their hope that all in their community will experience Christ and will have an openness to lifelong conversion in Christ;

They hope that people of all ages, ethnic groups, and stages of faith will find ways to come together as the Body of Christ;

They desire ways to encourage engagement among their members, and are now ready to intentionally shape their life together to encourage such engagement;

They hope that younger adults will find ministry as life-giving as they do;

They find strength in each other and plan to continue to network to enhance learning.

In the words of Fr. Tamayo, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Elk Grove, CA, "we need to grow, and go!" Growing together as Christ's people necessarily calls us out in mission -- we need to grow, and go, out to all the world in love, mercy, and service.

What comes to mind for you?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gratitude and Generosity: Now is the Time!

Last week during a presentation, I shared my conviction that we as pastoral leaders need to form people toward gratitude for the abundance of our blessings, and toward generosity as a response to God's gracious goodness. I said that it seemed that many seem to feel a sense of entitlement, saying "I worked for what I have, I am entitled to it."

Last week's group reacted energetically, with overt groans and heads bobbing. It felt as though I had named something that is on people's minds and in their hearts, pressing upon us as a critical need in a time of social and cultural upheaval.

So I wonder, how are you fostering an attitude of gratitude in your own life at this time? How are you encouraging others to do so? In what ways are you and those around you responding in generosity?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Michael raises a good point. So often, we as pastoral leaders seem to want to boil everything down to a program. We mean well, but we fall easily into "just tell me what to do and I'll be happy to do it, particularly if you can guarantee some quick success." Many recognize the shortcomings of programmatic thought, but still, we are busy, we do all we can to respond to the needs of those in our midst, and so if there's an easy fix, why not take it?

The reality is, of course, there is no easy fix. Our solutions are not programmatic, but are rooted in the ways in which we understand ourselves as disciples and the ways in which we know the parish to be "the locus in which the Christian community is formed and expressed." (OHWB, 117)

Viewing the parish as the place where disciples are formed changes how we proceed. I think that is why the information on engagement is so fascinating to me. It gives us a lens through which to view many of our practices, not in a programmatic way, but with an eye for what we can do to enhance what is already present and life-giving in our parishes. We come to see that there is much upon which to build, and much that we have to give as members of the body of Christ, graced with talents, urged forward to contribute to the reign of God through our witness and our actions.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Beginning a Conversation

For many months as I have talked with people in parishes and dioceses throughout the United States, people have asked if I have a blog. Now, I can respond "yes," and through this blog, invite each of you into conversation with each other, and with me. Our topics are sure to center around the Catholic Church, and will likely focus on stewardship, engagement, strengths development, catechesis, and evangelization. As you share this blog address with your colleagues, please invite them to join us as we continue to learn from one another and share what inspires us, what challenges us, and where we find joy as we serve the Church as members of the body of Christ.

I have been thinking much in this past week about the ways in which stewardship is the underlying stream from which evangelization flourishes. This insight was clearly articulated by my friend and pastor, Fr. Jan Schmidt, and he echoed my own recent reflections on the interrelated nature of these two ways of living as disciples. Bishop Sylvester Ryan spoke last fall of evangelization and stewardship being two sides of the same coin.

What do you think? What is your experience? Let's talk!