New Year's resolutions and amazing parishes

Much has been written the past few weeks about best practices, and the dawn of a New Year is ripe for resolutions and improvement. In addition to exercising more, eating more veggies, and losing those 10 Christmas pounds, this is also a good time to re-visit the Amazing Parish movement.

A group of committed Catholics have established the website, "to help parishes be amazing by connecting them to great resources." Their research identifies seven traits that contribute to making a parish amazing: reliance on prayer; a real leadership team; clear vision; Sunday experience; compelling formation; small group discipleship; missionary zeal. Over the next weeks we will examine these traits, and their interconnectedness, and see how some parishes are developing them. This week, we will look at prayer, leadership, and vision.

1) A Reliance on Prayer -- This seems obvious, but maybe not. The site acknowledges that every parish is a place of prayer, but cautions, "when it comes to running our parishes, we all too often forget that prayer must be central, and that God wants us to turn to Him, every day, with intentionality and regularity." Two words jump out: intentionality and regularity. Staff and parishioners are called to really focus on what the parish needs today and tomorrow. A few parishes in the archdiocese show their reliance on prayer by offering perpetual adoration and many have eucharistic adoration weekly. St. Monica Parish, Methuen, a Phase I collaborative parish, meets in prayer and adoration twice monthly to pray for all priests. A Phase II collaborative has a Saturday morning Men's Prayer Group that has been meeting for 25 years.

2) A Real Leadership Team -- Amazing Parish consultant and businessman Pat Lencioni says that building a team, more than anything, "comes down to courage and persistence.... When people come together and set aside their individual needs for the good of the whole, they can accomplish what might have looked impossible on paper. They do this by eliminating the politics and confusion.... They get more done in less time and with less cost. The measure of a true team is that it accomplishes what it sets out to achieve." Great descriptive words: courage, persistence, the good of the whole. Gathering a real leadership team goes hand in hand with the next trait...

3) A Clear Vision -- A song popular in the 1970s had a great opening line: "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way." Writing about a parish vision, Amazing Parish advises, "What's most important is that your parish has an idea of where it is headed and what it wants to be." The vision is the agreed upon destination in the parish GPS. It is what the parish sees clearly, including the obstacles.

A member of the leadership team in a Phase I collaborative, after 18 months of collaborative experience, speaks passionately that clergy, staff, and parishioners involved in developing the vision must also be people of prayer who take their task seriously and make it part of their own personal prayer. Some collaboratives have taken a name (e.g. Cranberry Collaborative; Matthew 13 Catholic Collaborative). One may ask, why bother? What's in a name? But discussions about choosing a name can help clarify the vision, how the collaborative sees itself as an evangelizing community of faith.

Phase I parishes have submitted drafts of their local pastoral plans. Months of meetings and hours of hard work and prayer went into articulating a vision unique to each collaborative and determining priorities, goals, and strategies to help parishioners live out the vision. When finalized, these plans will provide a three year road map uniting parishioners, clergy, leadership team, councils and staff with a clear vision. Ultimately, with God's grace, the lived vision will lead people to a deeper union with Jesus Christ and a zeal to share the gift of faith with others.

Amazing Parishes already exist in the Archdiocese of Boston and many more are working hard to become amazing. Focusing on prayer, leading with courage, and communicating a clear vision are good goals for the New Year.