Sunday, 12 May 2013

Renewing the Church in Australia Step 3: Re-open the churches!

In this period between Ascension and Pentecost, I'm running a series on what I think needs to be done to revive the Church in Australia.

So far I've talked about:
Today I want to suggest one very simple but very important measure that relates closely to the gift of piety that we pray for today in the traditional Holy Ghost Novena, namely opening up our parish churches during the day.

The importance of churches

On Friday night (since I was unfortunately unable to get up to Sydney) I heard Sherry Weddell of Intentional Disciples Blog talk, and while I remain unconvinced of many of her central premises and concepts, I did think some of her insights into the conversion process were extremely helpful.

And one of the things she said that had a lot of resonance for me personally was her own conversion story.

As a protestant, she said, she had a strong commitment to intercessory prayer, and looking for a place to pray, she wandered into a Catholic Church because it happened to be open.  Once there, she felt the Real Presence, and so began the process of her conversion.

My own process of reversion to the faith many years ago had a different starting point.  But walking past - and then walking into - a Church that was actually open as I went to and from work each day similarly played a crucial role in my rediscovery of the faith.

The parish is meant to be the centre of our practice.  

Our churches are meant to attract people in.  

But how can they when those buildings that were so expensive to build mostly sit empty and locked up all day?

Making our churches genuine centres of practice

My proposition is this: get each parish to organise a roster so that there is someone in (or around) the Church all the time and work to make the church a genuine centre for the life of the parish.

There are some things that need to be done to make this work.

First, that Church I walked into (the London Oratory) looked and felt like a real church, not a barren school hall, concert chamber or classroom.  Most Australian parish churches, alas, have either been subject to an awful wreckovation, or are the product of that thoroughly unfortunate era of anti-ecclesial architecture.  

Yet even the worst building can be improved: one can hide that perspex 'altar' table with an altar cloth appropriate to the liturgical season; put icons up around the walls;  rip out that ghastly green carpet;  and move the tabernacle back to pride of place for example.

Secondly, many people want to find out things for themselves at first, rather than talk to someone, so make sure there is a good supply of material people interested in the faith, or in developing their faith further can look at.  

Personally I devoured that rack of Catholic Truth Society leaflets at the back of the Church before I spoke to anyone, and I've heard others say similar things.  Indeed, I always think of St Edith Stein, who had learnt her catechism off by heart before she even thought of approaching a priest for baptism!  

Thirdly, actually schedule things at the Church, and at times people can get to.  

For me, the fact that there was a Mass at a time geared to people going to work was important.  As someone pointed out in a comment on another post this week, a 9am Mass is great for retired people but not much use for the great majority of people.  Maybe a mix of times is the answer?  

But there needs to be more than Mass at each parish.  

There need to be prayer groups aimed at engaging young people; devotions; choir practice; catechetical sessions to develop adult faith; the Liturgy of the Hours; charitable activities one can join in with; and social activities centred around particular sub-groups.  

Maybe not many will turn up at first.  Perhaps some of the sessions will be sessions of one for a while.  But I think many Catholics - especially those who essentially missed out on being catechised when they went through their 'catholic' school' - are actually hungry to learn more and to find a way to engage with others on how to practice their faith.

You have to start somewhere.  The open the doors of the parish church and see what happens.

You can find the next part of this series here.


Monica said...

Really enjoying this series, Kate, thanks! Pretty much just nodding my head at everything.

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks Monica, good to know!

jeff said...

I agree with the extra-mass activities. The priests usually are happy to let you organise it so long as they don't have to do any work.

Make it happen.

PS, you're right in that not many people come at first. You need to aggressively network and personally invite them to stuff.

C said...

Our parish recently decided to leave the church open from first morning mass (6:30 am so open a little before that I imagine) through to at least 3:30 pm. Part of their reasoning was so that it could be open for students from the primary and high school to visit. It has been wonderful.