In our parish, new things sprout up all the time. Last week there was a group meeting in the back room during one of our bible studies. The people in the bible study asked me what the group was, and I didn’t know. During a break I poked my head into the room and recognized the people. “What’s going on?” “We’re doing the crafts class.” “Oh, great!” I remembered that one of our staff people had mentioned the effort. These were the same people who made all the decorations for our Day of the Dead Altar in church. It was a kind of an offshoot of the decorating committee, and they do a great job changing decorations for the seasons in church.
Last week I talked with Maria about her prayer group. I had heard some people talking in the coffee shop (it’s right under my office in the basement of the rectory) and wondered what was going on. It turned out that Maria had started a prayer group for women who’d been traumatized. When I talked with her I asked her if she’d talked to anyone on the staff about this and she told me that it had grown out of her prayer. “Oh, I said…” and I started to think a bit about it. I spoke with her about how careful you have to be around trauma, and mentioned to her that counsellors and therapists are always protective of people’s privacy. I wasn’t sure about this. She assured me that all they were doing was gathering to pray, and that nobody was talking about confidential material in the meeting.
In the parish, these things sprout all the time! People start new groups. Not only that, people bring statues to church, and they leave them there! Who put the Our Lady of Czestochowa there? Where did that St. Jude statue come from, anyway? Who puts the flowers by the Our Lady of Mount Carmel statue?
People come up with new ideas, and then they start something. Who thought we ought to have a community garden? And, who organized the whole thing? Who decided we ought to give away 200 turkey meals at the parish at Thanksgiving? And organized the whole thing? Who thought to organize a protest against pollution in our neighborhood, and invite local and federal decision makers to a public forum at the parish?
The place is hopping, and all kinds of new things spring up. We’re trying to tend the vine here. What do I mean by that? It’s great to have new initiatives springing up all the time. It means that people feel comfortable seeing the parish as a place where they can try something new. They can bring their ideas and bring them to life!
Still, you have to have a way to try and keep some order. What if somebody decides that we ought to use the parish hall to set up an archery range? Or maybe a gun range? What if a person decides that the best thing ever would be to use the parking lot for a demolition derby? Oh my.
We’re trying to encourage new initiatives and at the same time we’re trying to be sure they line up with the mission and life of the place. We have a form on our parish website for “new initiatives.” If a person wants to start a new activity, they fill in a form. We ask them to describe the idea, and also if they want help with publicity. Then we evaluate the idea, either with our staff, or with our leadership team. If it’s a “go,” we let the person know. If we need more information, we ask for it.
This accomplishes a couple of things. It gives people a way to start new projects. It also lets us evaluate the project, and maybe “bump” the idea if it needs a little adjustment. It also gives us a way to let people know about the activity. Someone calls and asks, “Do you have a group for women who’ve been traumatized?” “Sure, they meet in the coffee shop for prayer on Friday nights.” “Do you have a group for people to do crafts in the parish?” “Sure, they meet on Thursdays in the mermaid room.” And so on.
Actually, I have a confession. To be honest, sometimes there are activities that I think are happening (I think we’re teaching people different musical instruments, for example) but I’m not exactly sure when and where they happen. What a strange way to run a parish! The dang thing is like a grapevine. Things are growing, and I’m not exactly sure what they are. Oh well. What fun!