To strengthen and enliven parishes and dioceses in today’s ever-growing secular culture, we need to become harvesters of SEEDs (Stewardship, Engagement, Evangelization and Discipleship), according to Tracy Earl Welliver, the National Director of Parish Engagement at LPi.
In his last episode of LPi’s popular webinar series, “SEED™,” Welliver has a heartfelt conversation with Fr. James Mallon, the part-time Episcopal Vicar for Parish Renewal and Leadership Support for the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Together, they tackle some important questions of how to move forward as “good sowers of SEEDs” in a parish setting.
“Understanding the Process” is Key
“Today, never have we as the Church been so content rich,” Fr. Mallon explains. “We’ve got tons of programs and lots of content, lots of opportunity, and we have the means for distribution like never before. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how many good programs you’ve got if you don’t understand process.”
Process, according to Fr. Mallon, is how to move people from outside of the Church, to inside. It’s the way that parishes effectively welcome them in, evangelize and disciple them, bringing them to Christ and the sacraments. That drive to help parishes and dioceses understand process was the driving force for Fr. Mallon to create his now best-selling book, “Divine Renovation: From A Maintenance to a Missional Parish.”
At the age of 16, Fr. Mallon experienced a personal encounter with Jesus that led him deeper into his Catholic faith and most importantly, compelled him to share it with others. However, it was difficult at that time to do so due to the stale culture of most Catholic parishes. To better meet his needs, he became involved in Cursillo, an apostolic movement of the Roman Catholic Church that focuses on showing Christian laypeople how to become effective Christian leaders.
“From very early on, I began to experience what was ‘normal’ in movements, and what was ‘normal’ in the life of a parish,” he explains. “In the movement, they were doing evangelization and discipleship. It was the closest thing to an authentic Christian community that I had ever witnessed. You could grow, there was dynamic worship in a way that was so different from a parish.” Churches he was familiar with, on the other hand, seemed to be closed in by a “culture” of mediocrity and minimalism. On closer examination of the differences between the two, Fr. Mallon began to ask a simple question: why?
“Why can’t we normalize in the parishes what’s been normal in the movement? What if we could take the ingredients that worked in the movement?” That question of “why” led him to a deeper relationship with the Church, and eventually to the priesthood.
Parishes Need “Trust and Belief”
While things are starting to change within parishes, it’s still hard for many to move out of the mundane, according to Welliver.
“When I work with parishes, I’ll often to say to them that they have to have trust in God, and believe that God has given them all of the tools and all that is needed to build His parish and make it a reflection of His kingdom,” he says. But even with that advice, so many parish leaders have excuses as to why things “can’t” change.
There are many parishes that feel they need to have a model or a process in order to become effective evangelizers, and because of that thought process, many can’t seem to comprehend how to find the time or resources to learn that model. However, that’s just not the case, explained Welliver.
“I was in one parish that focused so heavily on stewardship one year, and they turned to me after I had given a talk at their parish mission, and asked, ‘Do you think we should focus on evangelization next year?’ I said, you’re supposed to be focusing on all of this, all at the same time.”
According to Fr. Mallon, evangelization is the primary key.
“In parishes, we talk a lot about forming disciples, but not really about how we’re going to make disciples,” he explains. “It’s kind of like parents talking about how they’re going to raise their kids, but they never make babies. You have to do both!”
The Church and COVID-19
During the webinar, Welliver and Fr. Mallon also touched upon the current COVID-19 crisis and the response of the Church to its flock. Has the Church learned anything so far from this crisis?
“We have basically been forced to go off the map when it comes to the model of maintenance and mission,” says Fr. Mallon. “We can continue to do things the way they’ve always been done, but it’s going to be obvious that it’s just a dumb thing to do … the world has changed; we must change our methods.
“I would hope that this is a time for Church leaders to recognize that simply doing the old thing in a new way is simply not enough,” he continues. “This is a chance to do something new completely, that’s the opportunity before us. So, how you respond to change and transformation in society and culture is going to determine how you see this present moment.
“If I were to take the descriptors that describe this COVID crisis, I could say, ‘the world has changed,’ ‘our methods don’t work,’ ‘we’re confused and don’t know how to be Church at this moment,’ ‘leaders are isolated and they feel more alone.’ Well, guess what? All those words could be used to describe the pre-COVID Church, as well. I think how people are going to respond to that is going to be different.”
Watch Fr. James Mallon’s interview with Tracy Earl Welliver, and catch the rest of the SEED webinar series on-demand.