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August 21, 2018

For the past six years, Parish Catalyst has worked with some of the most dynamic pastors, religious, laywomen and men serving parishes today. We challenge them to be disciple makers first, and to see their given roles (e.g., pastor, pastoral associate, director of religious education, council member, administrator, youth minister, parochial vicar, school teacher, deacon, musician, etc) simply as a means to that end. For the ordained, the ecclesial professional, or the key volunteer to imagine their role as disciple maker often requires a person to think differently about what it means to be a church leader.  It requires a personal vulnerability that is rarely found in our church today – a vulnerability that calls the minister to humility, rigorous honesty and a great deal of prayer. Instead of measuring successful ministry by counting the numbers attending Sunday liturgy or the number of children in a religious education program, the disciple maker’s primary measure is the amount of trust, intimacy and connections she or he has made with others and whether those relationships have actually brought people closer to Christ.

Dr. Brene Brown (The Power of Vulnerability: writes that, “vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” When any of us engages the world from a place of vulnerability our heart can be broken.  That is where many Catholics find themselves today – heart broken – over the grand jury report unveiled August 14th by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro that chronicles seven decades of sexual abuse of children by priests in six Catholic dioceses and the “systematic cover up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.”

For years some members of the church elite have tried to outrun or outsmart transparency and vulnerability out of fear of exposure and its unwanted consequences.  The sad result has been immunity for the powerful and destruction for the powerless.  This is one of those times in the church when institutional sin is so pervasive and corrosive that it compels all of us – ordained and laity alike – to finally override our deep seeded culture of silence and stoicism and stand up for what is right and holy.  To quote Dr. Brown again, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

At times like these, those who seek to be vulnerable, think differently and challenge the status quo can often feel like John the Baptist, who saw himself as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Jn 1:23). If this is how you feel, we want you to know that you are not alone. At Parish Catalyst we will continue to support new visions of collaborative leadership and innovative approaches to parish ministry.  We will continue to encourage parish leaders of all stripes to be vulnerable and rigorously honest – with one another and with those they mentor and lead.  We will continue, because despite the muck we find ourselves slogging through today we, all of us, continue to follow Jesus, “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12).

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”  ~ Psalms 34:19

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