Matter Conference

Dog-eared copies of "Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter" are on the shelves in parish and diocesan offices across the country. E-versions abound as well. It has been a "must read" for parish staff and council members since its publication. This ground-breaking story of Church of the Nativity Parish in Timonium, Maryland, chronicles the growth of the parish. Co-authors Father Michael White, pastor, and lay associate Tom Corcoran tell how they borrowed best practices from successful mega-churches and business leaders, then developed a vision for their parish that is rooted in the Eucharist. Through hard work, and trial and error, they brought a dying parish back to life. The book has been called a "barn burner" and praised by Cardinal Timothy Dolan as, "One of the most important books for parish ministry." The response to this and subsequent books about Church of the Nativity has been so great, that in 2013, the parish staff planned a conference. People came from all across the country and hundreds watched it livestreamed. The gathering, called the Matter Conference, became an annual, much anticipated event.

"Matter 15" took place in Timonium Nov. 5-6. Pre-conference publicity invited, "people in the trenches who are interested in building or rebuilding healthy and growing communities of faith." Staff from Phase I and II collaboratives, and Good Shepherd Parish in Wayland, journeyed south to attend. Conference attendance was 500, the capacity of the church. From the opening address by Father White to the closing presentation by Tom Corcoran, attendees were texting, Tweeting and posting on social media. The excitement was palpable. The third main speaker of the conference was Chris Stefanik, evangelist and founder of Real Life Catholic, a Denver-based non-profit whose mission is "reaching people most consider unreachable." In addition to main speakers, the Nativity Parish staff offered breakout sessions about outreach, programs for children and youth, inviting members -- parishioners -- into ministry, and forming small faith sharing groups for adults.

Paul Hutchinson, a member of the Pastoral Council in the Christ Initiative Collaborative of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Topsfield and St. Agnes Parish in Middleton, said, "It was a blessing to attend and to be in the presence of so many, many, people who are enthusiastic about rebuilding our Church." He praised the staff and volunteers of the Church of the Nativity, and commented on their warm welcome and positive energy.

In a ringing endorsement, Hutchinson says, "The Church of the Nativity has ... developed a parish that focuses on bringing people to God. Every parish in Boston especially those undergoing collaborative unions would benefit from the proven methods they use." Nativity's growth is the result of their willingness to embrace change and serve God "even when it is most difficult." Hutchinson expresses concern that we, in Boston, are not changing fast enough, and gives this stirring exhortation, "The challenges are many, the road to having strong, evangelizing, parishes will be long and arduous so the journey must begin now and must be focused, prayerful, and open to change. Status quo is failure and accepting failure as God is calling us to act, would be tragic."

Father Paul Soper, Cabinet Secretary of Evangelization and Discipleship and Director of the Pastoral Planning Office also attended the conference and shared this story from Brian Crook, Director of Missions at Nativity:

Crook had reached out to his friend Bill to invite him back to Mass. This outreach took place over several months. One week, Crook went around to the parish's liturgical ministers -- lectors, extraordinary ministers of Communion, greeters, and musicians -- to tell them that Bill was returning to Mass after a long absence. He wanted to be sure that everything went well; make this Sunday perfect so Bill will want to return next week and the next and the next. Here's the rub, he wasn't sure that Bill would come this Sunday, but he knew that there was a very good chance that someone like Bill will return to Mass that Sunday after being away -- and everything should be just right.

At every Mass, in every parish, there is the likelihood that someone is there who has been away. The welcome, singing, praying, preaching, and smiles should be just right. Always.