The Evangelical Catholic Parish


George Weigel keeps hitting the nail on the head recently. Here’s a recent article in First Things. If it’s time for the Church to embrace evangelical Catholicism, it changes the way we see a parish. Under the current model, your standard, mediocre institutional-maintenance Catholic parish, of 2-5% intentional disciples, is unlikely to experience a huge difference when one parish priest is replaced by another. OK, so some changes always happen. Maybe he’ll move the furniture in the office or alter how the readers’ rota gets organised. In an evangelical Catholic parish, a lot more is at stake. I know such parishes are few and far between, but a few do exist here and there. If a parish has been built up, over many years, intentionally forming its parishioners for mission, with a self-consciously evangelistic approach to the world, the choice of a new parish priest is of incomparable importance – I would go as far as to say make-or-break, life-or-death importance for the parish. For an evangelically-minded local Church, then, the right priest to take on this parish will be one who can lead it to the next spiritual, and evangelistic, level. He will nurture what is there already and identify new areas into which the Holy Spirit wishes to lead that community. In an institutional-maintenance minded local Church, incredible fruits can be wiped out. So… thank you George Weigel… once again, I think he’s bang on the money.

About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

6 responses to “The Evangelical Catholic Parish

  • Paul Rodden

    “I’m an Evangelical catholic/Intentional disciple/Faithful to the Church/Orthodox Catholic…”

    “I’m of Paul/I’m of Apollos…”

    It seems to me that whenever a section of the Church is going off the rails it separates itself, names itself – denomination – or later it is declared as a heresy by the See of Peter after the person who led the group if it goes too far. Feeneyism, for example.

    Why can’t we just be Catholic? Why a need for distinguishing ourselves from the rest of the heaving mass? Are we special if we’re Evangelical Catholics? Are those not in Evangelical Catholic parishes somehow ‘lesser’ Catholic?

    What about changing priests? Surely the only time a priest can affect our discipleship is when we are weak, not when we’re strong? Is something which relies on clerics so much actually an affirmation of, or evidence of, being in the grip of the Clericalist mentality? Something which is a product or man and not the Spirit if it’s so fragile?

    Why do so many of these ‘special’ Catholics commute miles to get their ‘fix’ from the Latin Mass or whatever, and/or abandon being the leaven they could be in what they consider to be their ‘dead’ or ‘dissenting’ parish or priest? Should we leave them to their fate? (‘Serves them right!’ as one traddy in a combox put it.)

    This is, indeed, what Evangelicals do, isn’t it? They ‘church shop’ for what fits their worldview and what meets the desires of their own subjectivity, their own personal Jesus. They don’t consider those they are leaving behind (I’ve watched the pain it causes when people they thought were friends just up sticks and move on because they’re ‘no longer being fed’.)

    Weigel’s book, like Weddell’s, Kelly’s, and many others, are great and useful, but why don’t we just integrate them – without any labels – rather than separate and ‘brand’ ourselves as a different sort of Catholic or Catholicism? None of the books by Sheed, van Zeller, Goodier, et al, before Vatican II created Catholic categories. In fact, the first one I can think of, is Rahner’s ‘Anonymous Christians’ – Modernism being characterised by Nomimalism.

    Maybe we’re unconsciously implementing a Secular/Protestant ecclesiology owing to the mentality many of the poorly catechised and converts into the Church from secularism and Protestantism are bringing with them?

    ‘Where there is Peter, there is the Church’, and where there is the Blessed Sacrament, there is Christ. No?
    In today’s Gospel, the crowd was confused as to who Jesus was, but Peter declared him the Christ. That’s enough, isn’t it?

    • transformedinchrist

      Lots of different issues here – but on the question of ‘naming’ strands in the Church – 100% agree (although the post does not reflect this, I admit it). The reason I think it’s useful to use these ‘names’ at the moment (evangelical Catholic, intentional disciple) is because it situates this in the contemporary, complementary discussions of Weigel and Weddell. They are simply ‘naming’ something that the Church has been waking up to a bit more in the last 5 years, and for those still halfway between sleep and awake (most of us), names are helpful to identify what we’re talking about. Having said this, in a year’s time this post with its ‘names’ will seem very dated I imagine.

      On the question of movement of priests – this can have a big impact on the parish when we still keep to the ‘clericalist’, ‘institutional-maintenance’ model of the parish. I’ve seen it with my own eyes!

      • Paul Rodden

        Thanks for your reply!

        The place I was coming from is an idea you were advocating last year, and more specifically, your post, Some Things I Learnt About Leadership… (11 June 2012), from the 2012 HTB conference, especially points 1 and 2.

        Over the time I’ve been following this blog, I’ve found your posts a great source of encouragement, especially those.

        I am weak, lack training and confidence, and I muddle along, but I decided I was no longer going to be bullied by priests, kowtow to them, or wait for them to tell me what I can, or cannot, do. But, most importantly, I have to discern carefully, and co-operate with grace rather than my own will, and without fear.

        I should simply try to love and foster those around me with one purpose: that they fall in love with Christ. I have to be a pedagogical gymnast, not a catechetical one-trick pony.

        What was Pentecost all about? If we’re creating shrinking violets, are we implementing the wrong programmes and methods, even if everyone’s selling them as the solution? Are we just fad-surfing or using what’s ubiquitous, popular, and approved by Scott Hahn?

        I don’t think the Church is waking up to anything, nor has any need to. Being cynical for a moment, most of these authors rely on selling books for their livelihood. Differentiating and segmenting the market is an effective way of doing this. Selling an already-existent idea or understanding of reality under a new name as if it’s an insight when it’s not is, sadly, a growing trend in Catholicism.
        (It was, and is still, in Evangelicalism, like the idea of a Purpose-Driven Life, “(TM)”, or the LICC’s Whole-Life Discipleship, “(TM)”.)

        Surely, what we really need is a converted and growing seedbed of (normal) Catholics? If we have that, the priest can do no harm. If however, we’re catechising young people where their parents, teachers, and people in the pews around them are completely indifferent, if not hostile, then the priest will be central, simply because the average unconverted/poorly catechised Catholic, believes being Catholic means being a Mottramist:

        Maybe we’re assuming similar foundations, but we’re just misunderstanding/talking past each other…? (And it’s more likely to be my fault!)
        This recent post, seems to sum up, far better than I can, what I think we’re really about:

  • Marc Cardaronella

    You are right about how priests can change the character and climate of a parish. It can be devastating if the new pastor doesn’t carry on the vision of the previous pastor. It’s a problem for every parish when the organization’s direction changes every 3-5 years. It creates an feeling of impermanence where people are hesitant to build anything because they don’t know if it will last. And pastors are hesitant to build anything long term because they know they won’t be able to see it through and the next guy will just change it. It’s alright if you’re just looking for the pastor to be a kind of caretaker that maintains the status quo or the “institutional-maintenance” model. But if you’re going to build a parish that changes lives and really makes a difference in the community, you’ll never be able to pull it off with tenant priests…unless, of course, the whole diocese is on the same page and every priest is working towards the same goals.

    • transformedinchrist

      Thanks so much for your comment, Marc! Could not agree more. A whole new model is needed, I think… With wise and evangelistic bishops good decisions can be made. And you’re right – if the whole diocese is on the same page this would be the ideal scenario.

    • Paul Rodden

      Hi Marc.

      I agree with the first part – that tenant priests are unlikely to dig themselves in – nor congregations ‘give’ themselves to their priest – if they realise their hearts will be broken at ‘Time t’ knowing he’s going to be taken away, but I think that is happening in the laity, too.

      Many move because of work, or simply because they don’t like the priest, so they shift to another Parish that ‘feeds them’ or gives them ‘what they need’ just like Protestants ‘Church Shopping’.

      I believe this is terribly damaging because people are ‘holding back’ more and more in parishes, and not giving of themselves for fear of the fact that many people in their congregation will ‘move on’ for some reason or other.

      Also, maybe bad catechists could wreck the parish, as could any forceful layperson who tries to control? I know a congregation where the priest is wonderful, but there are some lay, toxic power-freaks currently doing a lot of damage and dividing it, for example.

      I can’t help thinking that if the priest has that much of an impact, we are not the family we imagine ourselves to be and we’re in denial – or attempting to rationalise away – the failure of our catechetical models and programmes…

      How much is it based on our own hubristical notions of just how good we (think we) are?

      Without a ‘Form of Life’, as Wittgenstein would call it, or a basic ‘Catholic Culture’ to act as a seedbed, are we on a hiding to nothing? Rather than models and programmes, maybe we should be exemplars and immerse ourselves as examples of what it is to live a Christ life, gathering a group of people who want to meet the Lord (more) around us?

      “In ministry, too often we have tried to build up the community through purely human means. The hope is always the same – find a magic bullet, a facile response to whatever problem we perceive. And while some fruit comes about, our semi-Pelagianism has really produced an incredible amount of barren trees (the statistics are telling). We fool ourselves into thinking that if only our projects are founded upon Christ, that if His love compels us, then we can expect great things. But here we risk using Christ for our own gain. We expect something out of our projects and processes, instead of hoping in Christ alone.”

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