June 24, 2016
If there is one thing that I learned and could put into practice from the late St. John Paul II, it is to get out of the office. He was the frequent flyer pontiff. It is so easy to bury ourselves in our office. We have our impressive desk, our phone and our computer, which can isolate us from the rest of the world. We keep busy for hours. Throw in some meetings and appointments and we have no reason to leave our parish grounds. We resemble cloistered monks. Yet, we need to get out for that is where the people are. Foolishly we expect them to come to us, but they won’t. Oh the committed will and the downtrodden looking for a handout but the unchurched don’t even know where our office is. We need to go out.
I plan my weekly calendar with at least one daily activity away from the office—hospital duties, nursing homes and school visitations. It is a start but it’s not enough. We need to be visible without adding to our workload. What we, my core staff and I, have decided to do is to hold our weekly meetings away from the office. Each Monday from noon to 2 my core staff (4 of us) meet to examine and challenge one another. Typically we meet on grounds tucked away in a meeting chamber free from distractions. Someone suggested that at our next meeting we should gather at Stetson University cafeteria. Cafeteria? Isn’t that quite noisy and crowded? It didn’t seem ideal for a meeting space. But then again why not? They do have a great buffet! I was on board for I suffered from feelings of guilt for not making myself present to our Catholic students. Rick, my youth chaplain, meets weekly with them and does an excellent job. They meet at night and quite honestly my energy tank hovers near empty past 7pm. At least now I would be on campus. It was a start.
Wearing my collar I got noticed—“There is priest on campus!” Surprisingly it wasn’t that noisy and we were able to conduct our meeting. Better yet, from time to time students would stop by and greet us. Many knew Rick. Some I recognized; others I had no clue. They were the anonymous mass attendees tucked away in the back of church. But they knew me. You could tell by their expression and comments how surprised and delighted they were to see us. In that brief encounter, I could offer an uplifting word or a warm embrace.
On another occasion we met downtown at the little square, which offers tables and chairs. Living in Florida one can do this before the summer heat hits. People paraded by and glanced in our direction wondering why this church is invading their territory. No proselytizing, no preaching just eating lunch. Quite a few parishioners passing by were startled to see us. We spotted the familiar faces of the homeless we serve and just townsfolk who were curious about what brings us to the park. I believe there is a witness when we are where the people are.
Next week we are stepping it up. We are going bowling during our lunch break. I am thinking of going downtown with a sign that reads, “Need to Talk?” and see what happens. It could be quite interesting…
Our schedules are busy enough. Yet we need to be with people particularly the unchuched. They are not darkening our church door. We need to get out. By nature I am an introvert so doing this with the support of my staff makes it nonthreatening. In fact I look forward to it. Try holding your next meeting where people gather. If at a restaurant don’t get buried in a back room. Get noticed. Eat outside. It is the first step in breaking down barriers. Besides our church offices are not that attractive and we could all use the fresh air.
By: Father Tom Connery, Pastor, St. Peter, DeLand, Florida