It was encouraging to see that even though we have a long road ahead of us, Boston is ahead of the curve nationally in many ways.
The Amazing Parish movement describes itself as, "a group of committed Catholics from around the United States who love the Church and ... want to help parishes be amazing by connecting them to great resources." Last week over 525 participants from 115 parishes joined by priests, bishops, and diocesan staffs from across the United States and Canada, gathered in Denver, Colo. for a two-day Amazing Parish Conference. Hoping to attract 25 parishes, conference organizers registered 115 parishes with a waiting list of 125! The conference, materials and meals were free thanks to generous Catholic donors who want to help parishes be amazing. Boston was represented by members of pastoral teams from the Belmont, and Salem Collaboratives, staff from Immaculate Conception Parish in Malden, and from the Archdiocesan Office of Pastoral Planning and the Secretariat for the New Evangelization.
Bishop Andrew Cozzens, a native Coloradan, currently auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was the conference keynote speaker. Presenters included Curtis Martin, founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS); Pat Lencioni, business consultant; and Father Michael White and Tom Corcoron, authors of "rebuilt"; Matt Manion, president of Catholic Leadership Institute; Jeff Cavins, creator of the Great Adventure Bible timeline; Lisa Brenninkmeyer, founder, Walking With Purpose; Chris Stefanick, evangelist and film producer; and composer-musician Matt Maher.
In his homily at the opening Mass, Bishop Cozzens talked about the real meaning of the word amazing, not as we commonly apply it, "superficially, to things on TV like stupid human tricks." The real meaning of amazing is wonder and awe, recognizing that we are in the presence of the Lord. Later, in his keynote address on Missionary Zeal and Evangelization, he continued to challenge listeners with his use of precise language, defining in stark terms what missionary zeal is and is not. "It is not a simple emotion; it is different from enthusiasm. It is the fire that burns in the heart of a person who encounters Jesus... Zeal is love that is willing to suffer." He told participants about meeting Pope Francis, who repeatedly tapped him on the chest saying, "Pray a lot. Pray a lot. Pray a lot." Bishop Cozzens' comments prompted much discussion throughout the two days.
Consultant Patrick Lencioni moderated the conference with an easy style, guiding participants through a series of exercises on leadership and team building. At the outset he reminded attendees that, for the average Catholic, the most recognizable people in the Church are the pope, their pastor, and members of the parish staff. More than 135 priests and four bishops, including Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, were present. As one participant noted, the witness of the priests and laity gathered together and focused on evangelization was a snapshot of the Church and a great sign of hope.
Presentations addressed the leadership, vision, and formation components of parish life. Musician Matt Maher's Wednesday night concert included wonderful catechesis on the role of music in liturgy and set the tone for the time of Adoration which followed and continued into the night. Confession was available from 9 to 11 p.m.
The days were long and work was intense. In spite of the rigorous schedule some exercises remained unfinished at the close of the conference but there was a firm commitment to continue the work back home.
Much of what was presented echoed the goals and practices of Disciples in Mission. It was encouraging to see that even though we have a long road ahead of us, Boston is ahead of the curve nationally in many ways. More than once the Boston contingent was told that other dioceses are closely following what is happening here.
At the end of the conference, when asked to describe the event, one person commented that the conference was, "alive with God's love in a way that was contagious." Others simply said, "amazing!"
The Amazing Parish website (www.amazingparish.org) offers practical, free resources including videos and is updated regularly.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS EVANGELIZATION ASSOCIATE, OUR LADY OF GOOD VOYAGE SHRINE.