We Are So Glad You Are Here
Worship time has arrived. People enter the church and take their places. And now, just as the liturgical celebration is about to begin, a member of the community stands and faces all in attendance, declaring:
“If you are a young adult, separated or divorced, newly married, unemployed, a child, a new parent, gay, struggling with faith, experiencing profound gratitude, lesbian, remarried, single, a long-time member of this faith community, a visitor, lonely, experiencing health challenges, mourning, in the prime of your life, transgender, religious, widowed, ordained, materially poor, celebrating a milestone, in the company of people you love, undocumented, anxious, regretful, seeking meaning, seeking forgiveness, seeking mercy or seeking transcendence: Welcome. Welcome home. We are so glad you are here.”
A palpable atmosphere of hospitality is sacrosanct for a vibrant faith community. People want to belong. Yet in their search for meaning, reconciliation, nobility of purpose, healing and inspiration, they often arrive at our churches tentative and vulnerable.
We know a thriving parish when we see one: We experience a welcoming environment.
Fourteen years ago, the Catholic Church in the U.S. was reeling from unimaginable heartache wrought from the unfolding awareness of the sexual abuse crisis. Trust was fractured, and morale was at an all-time low. Yet deep within the Christian consciousness lies the paschal mystery, which gives rise, in the very midst of profound suffering and dying, to hope in new life.
If any grace emerged from those painful days it was that of Catholic laity roused out of our lethargy. Many prominent Catholics joined clergy and religious to support efforts of healing and reconciliation for victims and for the church writ large. Geoff Boisi, founder of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, along with Fr. Robert Beloin, chaplain at Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale, resolved to be part of the solution. Thought leaders from diverse perspectives were convened. Out of their collective love for the church, they committed to address the underlying conditions that contributed to the sex abuse scandal, focusing particularly on church management, leaving doctrinal matters to the Magisterium.
In the ensuing years, a new awareness of the importance of managerial excellence, ethics, accountability, and lay expertise in the church has deepened. Laity today are less passive and more pro-active in exercising our baptismal responsibility. We are stepping in to aid pastors as they manage people and finances and solve other complex church challenges. As a result of this greater engagement of talented laity, a constellation of practices is in place to strengthen the temporal affairs of the church.
There is an elegant byproduct when church leaders avail themselves of the intellectual, problemsolving capability of laity: evangelization. One is far more likely to immerse and invest in the very life of the church if one is recognized for what she or he does best and is invited to lend that to the church in a meaningful way.
As a Catholic profoundly grateful for the gift of faith, and as executive director of the Leadership Roundtable, I travel frequently and attend Mass in many parishes across the country. What I have observed is a spectrum of vitality. The most important, and underappreciated, contribution to congregational vitality is active lay engagement. Pastors of stagnant, lackluster parishes rarely look to laity for anything more than financial contributions to maintain rather than to advance mission. Conducting a Zagat-like survey over a period of nine months, I found that the most flourishing parishes are those where parishioners are welcoming and take ownership to ensure their church is in fact their church. These parishes have systems of accountability. They make sure that mediocrity – whether in music, homiletics, stewardship, social action, faith formation, or parish management – is simply not tolerated.
Today there is new life for the Catholic Church in the U.S. A national movement is underway, fueled by the Leadership Roundtable network of ordained, religious, and lay Catholic leaders who are committed to nurturing a culture of accountability, openness, hospitality, and greater deployment of lay competencies in service to the church. The election of Pope Francis, who wants to make managerial reform in the church a signature of his pontificate, has been a further blessing.
So to all parishioners, and in particular to all who bring their considerable talents to strengthen and invigorate our faith communities: Thank you. We are so glad you are here.
Kerry Alys Robinson ’94 M.A.R. is executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management and author of Imagining Abundance: Fundraising, Philanthropy and a Spiritual Call to Service (Liturgical Press, 2014). For ten years she served as director of development at Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel & Center at Yale.