The Big Dream... "bring back my flock!"

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This will be my first attempt at writing for the Archdiocese of Regina.  I have served as the Director of Pastoral Services for a little over a year.   November 12, 2015 marked my first anniversary of employment with the Diocese.

Those who know my past careers know that I at times I can be impatient with waiting for things to change or to happen.  When I was hired, Archbishop Bohan used the metaphor of “growing grass that is well rooted” to describe the work we needed to do in Pastoral Services.  Little did I know that it would take almost a full year to understand the power of his metaphor!  As a church we are challenged to seek ways to rekindle the faith of all who seek the Lord.  All of us are invited to live and practice our faith.  The metaphor of growing grass that is deeply rooted is very appropriate for the challenges we face today and into the future.

We have taken the time as a Pastoral Team to review, reflect, discern, pray and plan how we work with our parishes, clergy and partners in faith to support the mission of the Church; “Go and make disciples”.

I am a strong proponent of using data and asking questions to get a better understanding of the changes taking place in any organization and what the impact of those changes are. 

When we visit parishes, two major themes are frequently raised:  first, how do we get young people into the Church and secondly why are the baptized absent from the Church?  While there are no ready-made answers, a long term perspective might be helpful to look at some of the factors impacting our faith.

A few facts:

Year    

Catholics

       Total Pop. Archdiocese

     of Regina geographic area

Percent

Catholic

Total Priests

Number of

Parishes

Catholics

per priest

1950

   70,000

                425,000

  16.5%

       175

     225

     400

1980

   92,000

                435,000

  21.1%

       139

     188

     661

2010

  125,800

                412,000

  30.5%

       102

     167

    1233

2014

  131,000

                432,000

  30.3%

        93

     167

    1408

 

Saskatchewan’s population was about 500,000 in 1901, rose to about 900,000 in 1931 and has hovered just below the million mark until recent years.  Our provincial population now stands at 1.3 million.

Saskatchewan has undergone a tremendous transformation in its economic livelihood since the first farmers broke land on their homesteads.  We have seen a rapid decline in our rural populations and corresponding increasing populations in larger towns and cities.

The biggest single reason for our population increase in recent years has been largely due to immigration and increased birth rates of First Nations.  Our increase in Catholic populations is primarily due to immigration.  Our families are typically smaller in number. 

The chart clearly illustrates that while our Catholic population percentage has increased, we see a corresponding drop in the number of clergy and parishes.   We expect the same or more of our clergy while the realities of their work load has increased.   Our clergy cannot and should not be expected to sustain a parish on their own.   It is easy to burn out clergy.  It is much more challenging to find lay people who will step up the plate and take on the necessary roles to build and support a strong parish faith community.

It is no secret that many of our parishes are struggling to survive.  We have seen a drop in attendance and membership in both rural and urban parishes.  While our percentage of self-declared Catholics is on the increase, we have seen a corresponding decline in church attendance.  In some parishes the decline in attendance causes great financial and emotional stress on the people who support their parish.   Many parishes still have a core of dedicated supporters who want to maintain their faith community.  They work hard to sustain their parish, give till it hurts and pray for the continuation of faith.  We cannot fault a community for wanting to sustain their parish.

None of this answers the question “why” fewer people are engaged with the church.   It would be easy to name, shame and blame our brothers and sisters for not going to church.  We all know that this approach is absolutely contrary to a loving, merciful Father who does not judge.  In this Year of Mercy we have an opportunity to practice Mercy and invite our brothers and sisters in Christ to come back to church.  Now is the time for every Catholic to reach out and practice good old- fashioned hospitality to invite our Catholics back to church.

When Pope John XXIII threw open the windows of the Church at Vatican he said that it was time to allow for a change of expectations.   Vatican II clearly recognized that laity needed to be engaged in supporting the mission of the Church.  By virtue of our baptism, everyone is called to evangelize and be the face of Christ in the world.

As Catholics we need to revisit what is being asked of us as we practice our faith.  I spent 42 years in education.   One of the lessons I learned early in my career was that if I lowered the bar I would get what I expected.  If I raised the bar I would get different results.  The challenge for every Catholic is to assess their own faith life and decide how they will respond to raising the bar.

A good place to start is to read the diocesan Pastoral Plan.  Archbishop Bohan’s key theme has been to focus on renewal and to strengthen the mission of the Church.  

Facts, statistics, numbers and more knowledge won’t change future outcomes for the church until the laity respond to the mission of the church.    Pope Francis reminds us that faith is demanding in the face of the realities of our world.

What will I do to live the mission of the Church?  In what ways might our parishes ‘raise the bar’ when it comes to the mission of the church?

Robert Kowalchuk

Director of Pastoral Service