In Your Midst


Summer 2001

In This Issue:
Last month, three members of St. James Cathedral staff had a unique opportunity to meet and share ideas and experiences with representatives from some of the best parishes and congregations in America. The result: A wonderful infusion of new perspectives and a heightened enthusiasm for building on the excellent work that already has been recognized here at St. James.

As was reported in the last issue of In Your Midst, St. James Cathedral was recently named one of America’s Outstanding Catholic Parishes by the Excellent Parish Project. In addition to recognizing excellent Catholic parishes and Protestant congregations, the Project also called together over 600 representatives from those communities in a Pastoral Summit held in New Orleans, May 28 through June 1, 2001. Three St. James Cathedral staff attended: Larry Brouse, pastoral assistant for administration; Helen Osterle, Director of Religious Education; and Patty Bowman, parish minister for Social Outreach.

At the Summit, we were able to tell the St. James story, and also to hear of the wonderful work being done and the vibrant faith-life being experienced at a wide variety of Catholic parishes and Protestant churches — everything from a 10,000 member Catholic parish in suburban Chicago, to a coalition of small rural parishes in the Midwest, to a congregation of “bikers” in Denver. We saw the Spirit at work in all of these congregations, in powerful and sometimes unexpected ways. As diverse as the various communities are, however, there emerged some common characteristics of what makes for a vibrant, exciting faith community.

Baptismal Call to Ministry

One common feature of excellent parishes is the high degree of parishioner involvement in the activities and ministries of the parish. One speaker at the conference warned of the “dangerous theology” of seeing the parish through “consumer” eyes; that is, of seeing the parish only as the place where one goes to receive. Of course, the parish is where we are nourished spiritually and sacramentally, but if the parish is seen exclusively in that way, it will not be as alive as it could be. By virtue of our baptism, we are also called to serve one another, to minister to one another, and the vibrant parishes are the ones where parishioners really take their baptismal call to ministry seriously. The more parishioners feel a strong sense of involvement and ownership of parish ministries, the more successful and life-giving those ministries will be.

Discernment and Use of Gifts

Another common trait of excellent parishes is a serious commitment to discern and to use the gifts of the Spirit, both individually and within the parish as a whole. We are all called by our baptism to serve one another, but the way we live out that call depends on our particular gifts, talents and interests. The most vibrant and effective ministries are those for which people have passion, in which people can use the gifts and talents they have been given and in which they can be challenged and grow. A message we often heard was the importance of trusting the Spirit to guide our ministries, by trusting that our gifts and our passions are the key elements we can bring to our service.

Common to all of the excellent parishes is strong liturgy, in which the entire congregation actively participates. The style of worship may vary from parish to parish (one of the highlights of the conference was a prayer service led by members of an African-American Catholic parish in New Orleans, complete with dance, drums and gospel music), but what is key is the level of active participation by the entire congregation. All that a parish is and does flows from and returns to the way in which it prays and worships together, and the vibrant parishes understand this very well.

Several parishes at the conference discussed how they encourage parishioners to come together in small groups, in which they can share their faith journeys, help one another discern and nurture their gifts, and listen for and respond to the call to use those gifts in the wider parish community.

If some of these characteristics of an excellent parish community sound familiar, that shouldn’t be surprising, because one can find all of them present here at St. James Cathedral. It is gratifying to know that our parish has been recognized for some of the things we are doing well. It would be a mistake, however, to rest on our accomplishments. For, in addition to the characteristics discussed above, the key trait of a vibrant parish community is that it is always moving forward, always seeking new ways to live out the Gospel, and always open to where the Spirit may be leading it. It is by remaining open to that newness that St. James Cathedral will continue to be an excellent parish.

Patty Bowman is the minister for Social Outreach.

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