The April edition of the Hallam News carried a report on The Divine Renovation Conference attended by a group from the Hallam Diocese. This is another instalment of the message of that conference, which was designed to bring parish communities from maintenance to mission.
In chapter 4 we look at what a maintenance Church looks like. The building is warm, the flowers are pretty, the pews are tidy and someone greets me when I come in through the door. The young ones are taken care of in the children’s liturgy, and for the rest of us everything is comfortable and familiar. After the Mass, we can go away without being challenged and we don’t have to think much about Church until next week. That is how we like it.
In his book, Divine Renovation: bringing your parish from maintenance to mission, Fr James is harsh in his criticism of churches like this, and no one gets off lightly. Most parishes have a few faithful lay people who do a good job of looking after things, and the parish priest is very happy when all the regular activities are ticking over nicely. The challenge is that what ‘successful’ maintenance churches are proud of are the very same things which prevent them from become focused on mission.
Fr James echoes Pope Francis as well as the New Testament in saying that the baptismal calling of every Christian is to holiness and to mission. The calling to holiness is that we grow in maturity in the Christian faith so that we all become disciples. The missionary calling is to bring others to an encounter with Jesus so that they become Christians and can start to grow in their own faith. For so long, the Church has placed responsibility in the wrong place. Growing disciples is the job of everyone in the Church, and not just the priest and the elite few people with a special calling.
That leaves the rest of us as ‘good-enough’ Christians who feel that they are holy enough, and this is the second danger that Fr James points to. On the day I die, I stand at heaven’s gate and God asks the question – Why should I let you into heaven? What do you say? We are nice people, we haven’t done really bad things, so surely we deserve it. Right or wrong? Actually, wrong because the basis for our confidence is not our nice-ness but the powerful and rich grace of God. Many of our churches consist of nice but immature Christians whose growing in the faith stopped long ago. They do not pray like grown-ups and they do not know their way round the Bible. They see the ministry of growing missionary disciples as someone else’s responsibility, and the tough message to priests is that so many of them agree (but they are wrong).
The big challenge for a Church which seeks to transform from maintenance to mission is how to get every member to hear the voice of God and accept their true calling.