Amazing Parish webinar

Six weeks ago, more than 500 people from around the country, including representatives from the Archdiocesan Office of Pastoral Planning, Secretariat for New Evangelization, the Belmont and Salem Collaboratives, and Immaculate Conception Parish in Malden, gathered in Denver for a two-day Amazing Parish conference. At the end of the event, organizers promised that the exchange of ideas would continue. True to their word, the first Amazing Parish webinar took place Oct. 9. A benefit of technology is that this follow up mini-conference involved no fee, no air travel, no hotel, no time away from the office.

"Webinar" is short for Web-based seminar, an interactive presentation, workshop or seminar transmitted over the Internet. Registered participants receive a code to log on and are encouraged to submit questions before or during the presentation. It is more than simply watching a lecture or a YouTube video. The inter-active dimension of question and answer in real time makes it a more enriching experience. This Webinar promised "insights and answers to help parishes become amazing." In his welcoming remarks, Dominic Perri, Amazing Parish Director, said that participants were logged on from Singapore, Canada, and throughout the United States. At the Pastoral Center, Pastoral Planning and New Evangelization staff participated. Matthew Kelly, founder of Dynamic Catholic hosted the hour along with best-selling business author Pat Lencioni.

Matthew Kelly began by stating the obvious: "Everyone wants their parish to be amazing. It's a great mandate, but whatever we do, we can't do it alone. We can't have amazing parishes without amazing parishioners; our parishes should be "holiness factories." He challenged parishes to: "raise up people with a great love of Jesus Christ and the Church. When we live the Joy of the Gospel (the title of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization), we attract others."

The Church has always been about transforming people one person at a time. The Archdiocese of Boston has made one on one evangelization a key component of Disciples in Mission and an important part of the training that parish collaborative staffs and councils receive. Tom Lyman, an Evangelization Trainer in the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support participated in the webinar and was struck by the description of the parish as a "holiness factory." He also noted the statistic from Matthew Kelly's 2007 research project which showed that 32 percent of people at Mass on Christmas come to Mass only on Christmas. Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Easter offer parishes opportunities to bring people back. Lyman adds "a heartfelt invitation to all the visitors to return to Mass the following Sunday is critical" to bringing people back the next week. Everyone has a role to play in this. Matthew Kelly notes that we have to "convert people from pew sitters to evangelizers."

Webinar guests included parish staff members from the mid-west who shared practical strategies. A Pastoral Associate from a small parish in Northbrook, Illinois reported that the parish staff, energized by the Denver conference, formed a team of committed parishioners that meets weekly to explore and discuss parish life and initiatives. A Faith Formation Director from Hiawatha, Iowa said that her parish developed a one-page "playbook" of parish goals to be completed in one year. Keeping to a single page forces them to stay focused on "what is the most important thing right now."

The Amazing Parish website lists seven traits common to amazing parishes: A Reliance on Prayer; A Real Leadership Team; A Clear Vision; The Sunday Experience; Compelling Formation; Small Group Discipleship; and Missionary Zeal. The Sunday Experience includes arrival in the parking lot, the welcome upon entering the church, the music, the homily, the friendliness of parishioners, and parish life outside of Mass that helps people live the Gospel in their daily lives. Amazing Parish is clear that, "... the heart of the Sunday Experience is the Mass, and the heart of the Mass is the Liturgy... it is critical that the Liturgy be honored, respected and preserved. The Real Presence of Christ surpasses anything that people could organize or produce."

Matthew Kelly acknowledged the challenges parishes face today, but offered practical words of encouragement: "You can't do everything, so focus on one or two things.... Don't let what you CAN'T do interfere with what you CAN do." Good advice.

(The Webinar video is available at the Amazing Parish website:

Susan Abbott is Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.