1. Greater Visibility/Transparency of Parish Decision-Making & Ministry Infrastructure
Concerns: The decision-making process in the parish/diocese is not understood very well. The Parish Council is an unknown entity to most of the parish community. As such, there is a need for more forums or opportunities to dialogue and offer opinions. Some parishioners feel if they speak they may be negatively judged on their positions on societal and economic issues. It is not clear what channels are open to parishioners, how Parish ministry membership/leads are appointed, or how decisions are made in the parish. Priests and staff appear to be stretched, which means there is a need to assess off-loading more day-to-day decisions/tasks to the laity within a pre-discussed /approved framework.
Suggestions: Ministries are where people can offer their skills and begin to claim ‘ownership,’ while exploring a more personal connection to their parish through service. To encourage and promote engagement, clearer communication and increased transparency of what the ministries are, what they are set up to deliver or are responsible for, and how to become involved, as well as how to raise concerns or make recommendations within the Parish is necessary. This need is even more apparent post-pandemic with many of the ministries having been dormant for nearly two years and with many people having moved into the parish during the pandemic time who have not been aware of what our parish ministry infrastructure consists of. There is a need for a more active and visible Pastoral Council with a clear mandate and guiding parish pastoral plan. With many ministries resuming, there is a need for more publicity about when the committees will be meeting and their agenda/minutes can be made available on the web for better transparency. Parish ministries need to be more innovative about attracting new volunteers, particularly to ensure that the Church demographics can sustain the ongoing replenishment of ministry volunteers. In terms of general communication with parishioners and that of major decisions, we can better explore the latest media tools to more effectively and efficiently communicate with parishioners – to better inform and to grab their attention, including that of our youth. Using current technology more effectively will enhance our communication strategies and aid in the greater dissemination of parish news, ministries, and events.
2. Increased Emphasis on Fostering a Sense of Community
Concerns: Our Parish and the larger Church needs to be a welcoming place more than anything else, especially to families and youth. A conscious effort to greet people as they come to church with a strong focus on newcomers, to follow up on any questions/requests, to build a social-parish connection with opportunities for dialogue and relationship-building after Mass, including the connection with our school children and their parents, are what we need to continue to focus on and greatly expand upon.
There was a repeated theme of the thirst for community. After a two-year pandemic related absence, people need to reconnect with their faith and their community members. The alignment of the reopening of churches and the SYNOD has provided us with timely insight to our parishioners needs/wants and a wonderful opportunity to welcome and draw people back, re-establish our parish pastoral plan, and ignite the spirit of parishioners to participate. As one SNYOD participant said, “people need to participate in the Mass, community and ministries to feel a part of it.”
Suggestions: We need to restore our image of a welcoming Church and build up the meaning of Parish community. Pride in My Church - This is MY Church – I want to be part of it. There was also a desire to have more social events as a parish to celebrate and community fellowship opportunities. In addition to fellowship, there is an urgency to do more in the way of outreach and social justice: listening to God in the joys and sorrows of our fellow parishioners and making the time to be aware of our fellow parishioners who may be in need, especially the housebound and aged. This means we strive to be a parish that cares for its less fortunate as much as we can. At present, mostly older parishioners support this work and age has caused them to drop off. More support from a younger demographic is a must. With regards to new parishioners – we need to do a better job of identifying newcomers and visitors at Mass so they feel welcome, including and educating them to make them familiar with the parish and how they can help (ex. welcome packages).
3. Deepening Catholic Faith Knowledge – Becoming a PRACTISING CATHOLIC
Concerns: There is considerable apprehension about the Church losing its foothold with its constituency (ex. Vatican II push back, disengaged from social issues, alienating some people, especially the youth, Covid has had a major negative impact on this alienation). A portion of Parishioners who have become used to online masses are questioning the need or purpose of going back to the Church. People are also leaving because they cannot personally relate to the doctrine: “I can be good in my behaviour, and it should be all that matters.”
Suggestions: We need to catechize the parishioners so they know their faith better. We Catholics must link our behaviours to the doctrines we embrace. Hence, we need to be reinforcing/re-educating the doctrinal foundation of our faith to better support our beliefs and expected behaviours. The Catholic Church has a wonderful treasure of meaningful rituals and practices; we need to re-convey the meaning of these practices with a strong emphasis on staying with and promoting the recommendations and practices of Vatican II. Initiatives could include: better utilizing papal documents (ex. Joy of the Gospel, Laudato Si), increasing the awareness of how social justice issues are intrinsically tied to our faith, re-educating parishioners on the parts of the Mass and the importance of reverence, describing the Mass and Sacraments and what they mean to our Catholic worship and lives, expanding to have more Mass times and opportunities for adoration and confessions, setting up more sessions that would foster continuing education of our Catholic faith (ex. video sessions, speakers), and providing more opportunities/space to allow parishioners to share and learn from one another.
4. Understanding and Addressing the Faith Disengagement of Catholic Youth
Concerns: We are missing youth participation. We have a demographic issue - an aging population of active ministry members and need to really work at getting youth back into the Church both for participation in the Eucharist but also for the future of our ministries.
Suggestions: We need more input from teachers; we could establish a panel of teachers (former and current) to discuss why the youth are not engaged in active Parish life, which could develop into a consistent ministry. At this stage in the pandemic we need to rebuild our partnership between the schools and the parish, encouraging more participation by schools in the church. We also need to bring youth into the parish and create opportunities for them to celebrate their faith (ex. through music, Catholic speakers) and be mentored to join ministries. Additionally, restoring our Vacation Bible School in the summer is much needed. Young parishioners are very media driven so we need to understand what sparks their interest and what will sustain it.