Workshop looks at Catholic parishes of 21st century

More than 100 people attended a workshop at St. John’s University in Collegeville Feb. 9 presented by Charles Zech, an economics and research professor emeritus at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

More than 100 participants attended a workshop Feb. 9 at St. John’s University in Collegeville. Charles Zech presented statistics about “Catholic Parishes in the 21st Century.” (Photo by The Visitor)

Zech recently published a book, “Catholic parishes of the 21st Century,” after years of research with the university’s Center for Church Management and Business Ethics and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, commonly known as CARA. Most of the data he shared at the workshop is published in his book.

Attendees gathered to hear statistics from Zech’s research as well as to discuss what those numbers might mean for their own parishes. People from across the diocese attended the day, including priests, deacons, parish and diocesan staff members, lay ministers and parishioners as well as others from outside the diocese.

Zech divided the day into four main areas of concentration. The first was parish human resources, which looked at trends in Catholic population, parish staffing and the changing profile of lay ecclesial ministers as well as just wages and time management. Other areas of focus included Mass attendance, parish finances and parish mission. Zech lectured on each topic and then allowed time for small and large group discussion.

Slides courtesy of Charles Zech

Concluding the day, a panel responded to Zech’s message. Panelists included Bailey Ziegler, diocesan director of human resources; Benedictine Father Matthew Luft, pastor of St. Boniface in Cold Spring, Sts. Peter and Paul in Richmond and St. James in Jacobs Prairie; Crosier Brother Daniel Hernandez Flores and Bishop Donald Kettler.

“I think the biggest challenge for me and for us as a diocese is the maintenance mode that we get into,” Bishop Kettler said. “I want us to move forward, to look at things, to talk about things and to come up with a plan.

“I do not believe this planning [in our diocese] should be only a result of the shortage of priests. That’s not the main issue. Having a good viable life of a parish and developing stewards, missionary disciples, that’s what this planning is for. What we need is viable parishes. That’s where the church is, that’s where God is. We have to revitalize our parishes and involve people better — leaders, professionals and volunteers,” he said.

Slides courtesy of Charles Zech

He cited his concerns with providing ministry for the growing Latino population and the need for sharing more resources and programs. He also said priests are going to have to travel more, like missionary priest Father Xavier Pierz did in the early days of the diocese.

“We are going to need more training, we are going to need more support. But the glass is half full, the church is alive, the church is growing,” he added. “We have to do some things differently and we have to do some things better, without a doubt … but we’ve got it made because the Holy Spirit is not going to let us mess it up.”

The Visitor asked a cross section of attendees to share a main point or “takeaway” from the workshop. Below is a sampling of responses.

Father Steve Binsfeld
St. Mary Church, Alexandria

“Bishop Kettler sees this as an opportunity. I do, too. Throughout the workshop, the emphasis was on ‘community.’ The speaker said, ‘Don’t even start a stewardship program if you don’t have community.’ Many of our parishes have community to some degree. We will always have people whose community is the parish church that has their favorite Mass time. As parishes are twinned, tripled, quadrupled, the church closest to people may not have ‘the right Mass time’ so they forsake the community closest to them because of that. So, what is community? Where is community? I think we have a lot of formation to do on what a eucharistic community is.

“I also believe that we have to think outside of the box. Trained (emphasis here) parish life coordinators, even though they cannot ‘say Mass’ have a huge influence. We priests have to learn how to work much better with lay staff and to demand that they are paid a just and living wage. To say, ‘We cannot afford it’ maybe means that the place should be closed. We cannot preach justice without looking at what our lay staff are paid. ‘The laborer is worth his/her wage.’ Working with lay staff is a partnership in ministry. They have gifts that I do not. Enable them to be used in a way that builds community.”

Kristi Bivens
Pastoral associate
St. Thomas Church, Kent, and St. Mary of the Presentation Church, Breckenridge

“I found a lot of what Dr. Zech said very interesting. The one thing that stayed with me was his comment on Catholics who have returned to the church. He said that this group of people can teach us about evangelization. Why did they leave and why did they come back? I think this is an important question to be asking.

“The other idea that came from the day, not just from Dr. Zech, but others at the workshop, is the importance of knowing our mission and vision as a church and that parishes need to move from maintaining themselves to bringing the mission of Jesus Christ to the world.”

Deacon Randy Altstadt
Deacon and parish administrator
St. Henry Church, Perham, and Holy Cross, Butler

“Dr. Zech told a story about a parish priest who was talking to someone and he said that his parish didn’t have any volunteers. The person he was talking to was very alarmed and asked, ‘What?’ The priest said, ‘Yeah, we don’t have any volunteers, we have disciples.’

“The idea was that his parishioners weren’t volunteers, because if they were, they could quit whenever they wanted. To be a disciple is to be a committed follower of Christ, and what you do for the church is because you have Christ in your heart and the desire to do his will is the disciple’s motivation.

“We had our volunteer appreciation dinner this past Saturday, and I told this story. I hope to change the name of this event in the future to our ‘Discipleship Appreciation Dinner.’”

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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