I know what I write today is probably nothing new to anyone who regularly reads this blog. I am pretty sure I have written about this before, but being as stubborn as I am, I am going to write about it again.
After Sunday Mass this past week, my wife and I headed over to the annual Parish Bazaar. She made an interesting observation, which actually carried over into a general discussion about both our parish and the Catholic Church as a whole. This observation was not meant in a derogatory way, it was just a statement that really hit the mark.
The statement was how it seemed the majority of those involved with the running of the bazaar were our age or older (63 and 60 respectively). There were some younger people but not many. In the hour we were there it was also noted that the majority of the attendees were also of the same age group, although we weren’t there all day. As I remarked to her, ours is an old parish, not only in physical age but in parishioners as well. While I don’t have any actual numbers I am pretty sure this is true of the majority of Catholic parishes in the United States.
Why? Again there are many, many reasons for it. The culture, the sex abuse scandals, the general attitude toward religion as a whole and Catholicism as in particular, too many other distractions. The reasons are numerous and varied. The point is there is not a lot of new blood coming into our faith.
I often think about when I was attending the same church fifty years ago how the pews were filled almost every Mass. Not only in my church but in the three other Catholic parishes in town. Now the four parishes have been merged into one and it is a rare sight indeed to see the pews filled.
This leads to the question: What happens to the parish when people stop coming? What happens when those of us who are not getting any younger go to our eternal reward – whatever that may entail? Who will fill the pews? Who will support the parish?
As part of our discussion, we talked about who should be responsible for bringing in new families to the parish. How do we get new people involved in running the various things that keep the parish going – the bazaars, the food pantry, the prayer shawl ministry? These projects fall upon the same group of people and they get worn out and stale.
I have been appointed as the website administrator for our parish. I really shouldn’t say I was appointed, I volunteered to help and found out I was the only one who volunteered. But it’s all good. And I must say this is not an easy job. Not because it is difficult to update the site, it couldn’t be more simple, but because people are resistant to change. The parish has had a website for at least ten years if not longer, and it has been neglected since the day it was launched. Because of that people don’t see the potential for what it can be. This means I do not receive information to place on the site, there is no engagement. This is no one’s fault when the site was launched it wasn’t embraced and promoted, no one took ownership.
I think the reason is people don’t understand that it is through the internet, and its various pieces, website, social media, etc. is how we will reach those we need to. It is how we will bring the next generation into our parish. We can’t sit and wait for people to find us, we need to find them. We need to reach out to them. This not only goes for my parish but for all parishes and the Catholic Church as a whole. We need to use whatever tools we can to do this. We need to “go and make disciples” of all. We can’t wait for others, we need to do it ourselves.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”New American Bible. (2011). (Revised Edition, Mt 28:19–20). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
If we don’t do it, who will?