Last spring, parish staff members from the six counties of the Camden Diocese read and heard the story of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., and its rise from a parish with no youth ministry, struggling religious education program, and aging community, into an active, vibrant church, with thousands entering its pews every week.
Father Michael White, pastor, and staff member Brian Crook visited Christ the Good Shepherd Parish, Vineland, in May, speaking about their book, “Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter,” which discusses how they revitalized their church.
Since then, local clergy and parish staff members have been discussing ways to transform their own communities to, as Father White put it, “awake, aware and awesome.”
“The staff of the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation, the sponsoring body for the presentation, has been wondering what has happened since that time. Have there been changes in the way parishes are ‘doing and being church’? What we found out is encouraging,” said JoLynn Ryan Krempecki, director of Lay Ministry Formation, Office of Lifelong Faith Formation, Diocese of Camden.
“Hospitality is the key concept that has been planted and is growing strong in those parishes that are taking Rebuilt to heart,” she said. “Their stories speak for themselves.”
Fifteen individuals from St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Swedesboro, comprising staff, trustees, school board members, pastoral council members, and finance council members, attended the May 1 workshop, and have since begun new initiatives.
A Sunday evening liturgy began the week after Labor Day, replacing two morning Masses, with a greater emphasis on young families.
“New possibilities will be modeled in this Mass, and then incorporated into other weekend Masses,” said Father David Grover, pastor, who added that even before the Rebuilt workshop in the diocese, he and staff members attended other presentations with Father White in Maryland, and have discussed the book’s implications for the parish.
“The book’s and the author’s call to a dynamic parish with vibrant worship and a mission/service parish was felt and heard by (our) parish leaders,” Father Grover said, adding that the St. Clare staff has “joined together to work toward such a parish (here).”
St. Clare of Assisi has hired both a part-time youth minister and a consultant, and monthly sessions with ministry leaders have created three long-term goals for the parish: outreach, financial responsibility, and effective parish leadership.
“We’re in a good spot,” Father Grover said, praising the “hard work of a lot of committed parishioners, committed to their faith and their church.”
At St. Joseph Parish in Somers Point, the leadership team attended the workshop, and after three meetings at their parish to discuss Rebuilt with parishioners, the community identified two initiatives for their initial focus: welcoming and discipleship.
“We discovered that our parishioners are hungry for rebuilding our parish to make it more welcoming, and to offer programs and events that will bring families back to Mass and parish life,” said Laurel Marchesini, director of Lifelong Faith Formation for St. Joseph.
To this end, the parish hopes to “move forward toward a vibrant teen ministry, develop a more comprehensive welcoming ministry team, and offer more adult faith formation and small faith sharing community options,” she said.
St. Joseph has already launched a welcoming ministry, “Life in the Spirit” seminars every Friday, led by Deacon Robert Oliver; and has updated their signage on the church grounds, and their voicemail messages, to more effectively aid visitors.
The conference “supported and reinforced what we are already doing and have in place, and challenged us to look for ways that we can build on that,” said Father Michael Matveenko, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo, Sicklerville.
After a 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass a few weekends ago, the parish held their Halloween Trunk or Treat festivities in the parking lot. After 11 a.m. Sunday Masses, religious education students and their families have attended sacramental prep classes and retreats.
Father Matveenko said that the parish is hoping to soon add a Welcome Center in the church, where parishioners can register, sign up for parish programs, and receive Mass cards. St. Charles is also exploring the possibility of using credit card readers for the Sunday collection.
The pastor praised the staff of St. Charles Borromeo in their efforts before and after the Rebuilt workshop. “We’re not afraid of approaching things a little differently, and looking outside the box,” he said.