Below is the message from Father Jeff Lucas, Pastor, given to the parish at the Listening Session on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.
We welcome you tonight to this vital step in the pastoral planning process for our Catholic Community here in Meadville.
As you may know, a pastoral planning process involving parishes across the Diocese of Erie was completed in 2017. Pastoral planning at the Bishop’s encouragement is now is taking place on the local level, which allows parishes to evaluate their own situations going forward, and to make decisions for their future.
We need to begin by realizing that in today’s world every one of the circumstances within which our parishes were formed and which defined their mission has changed in dramatic ways. Our churches are not being populated by waves of immigrant Catholic communities; our neighborhoods are not being filled with Catholics; and the surrounding popular culture propagated by the media is largely unchristian, if not hostile to Christianity.
I asked in my letter to you “What, then, is our mission now?”
To further the process of answering this question together, before asking for your input, we want to review with you two sets of facts. Call them “Our Facts” and “Today’s Facts.”
You will see from yearly counts that attendance is declining.
You will see that offertory is not keeping up with expenses.
You will see–although I try to stay in denial regarding myself–our population is aging.
And you will see the results of the survey.
►Facts in Today’s World◄
People today are less inclined to join a church. Many Catholics are leaving in favor of other Christian communities because our presentation of the Faith doesn’t meet certain human and psychological needs of some people today. The research about why people leave a church keeps coming down to one major theme: a sense of some need not being filled. These needs were often met in the past by the common culture and community that came with the immigrants at the turn of the century.
Some of these needs are:
People are hurting. People feel lonely, abandoned, hopeless, grief, anxiety, purposelessness, uprootedness. And that’s just a start. But not all emotional needs are a matter of pain. Some people may just want to feel valued and heard. Some people may ache to feel loved. They aren’t necessarily hurting, but their need is just as real and just as important. Our faith community can be a source of helping to meet many of these needs.
This is an area of need that we may not think of as much, but we should. People want others to understand and care about what they think. We want to be challenged. We want to have the information. We need to understand things. We naturally ask, “why?” St. Anselm prefaced a famous theological work of his with the phrase: “Faith seeking understanding.” And today, like then, we want to understand our faith.
This area of need is closely connected with emotional needs. God has hard-wired us to be in relationships. We are relational creatures. In fact, some theologians highlight that this is part of how we are created in God’s image: just as God is relational by nature (as we see in the Trinity), so are the people He created in His image and likeness. This also explains why a community founded on the Faith—the local church—is essential and not optional for His people. We must also think about the relational needs around us: shut-ins, widows, single adults. Our youth, as busy as they are, have relational needs that often go unmet.
To meet these is the reason why we exist. We have the answer to people’s spiritual needs. But if the above three aren’t met, they are much less likely to hear the saving message we present.
Given these two sets of facts–ours and those of today’s world–how do we plan to face them? How do we plan to carry out our mission to meet the needs of people in today’s world as well as we met the needs of the German, Irish, and Italian immigrant communities that came to settle here in yesterday’s?
I would urge you to consider two things:
Now we can seize the opportunity to do this with relative freedom. If we are proactive, we can chart our own course to meet today’s needs. On the other hand, if we wait too long, we can only be reactive, and our options will be limited. One thing is certain: we cannot just continue on with what’s comfortable in our own life of faith and our separate parishes until we all die and so do the churches here and then the Catholic Church in Meadville dies.
If our eyes are set on our mission to parishioners and the people of the area we hope to reach, it becomes obvious that we are better able to carry it out if we bring together all of our strengths; if we see our parishes at this point as three pieces of a puzzle that reveal the whole picture only when they are put together. In other words, there is strength and vitality in numbers and unity. The biggest piece of the puzzle is the fourth piece, us. Are we willing to do this work of facing the facts.
As I said in my letter to you, if we are to carry out our mission in the world of today, we will have to be intentional about building up a more unified, vibrant, and dynamic Catholic community organized to meet the needs of all ages here and now.
This goal raises many questions. What must happen to make this a reality? How can we reach out to the people of our area now to invite them into the Catholic world centered in the person of Jesus Christ? How can we be the best stewards of the resources we have?
Deciding how we, the Catholic Community of Meadville, can best accomplish this goal and answer these questions is the task of pastoral planning. And tonight we will be asking for your input.