By Fr Martin Sirju, Vicar General
Parish Architecture, a new word in the parish dictionary …. Well, not as new as we think. Parish architecture has to do with how we lay out our parish so that it becomes an amazing parish; all the different groups we need to work harmoniously, collaboratively, and co-responsibly.
This existed in an informal way from the 1970s onward. We had parish councils, liturgy committees and youth groups who planned for Lent/Christmas, fiestas, evangelisation projects and social outreach.
On the archdiocesan level we had ‘Liturgy School’ and ‘Know Your Faith Series’. It is important to affirm this semblance of an architecture in fidelity to the memory of all clergy, religious and laity who gave their life to building parish. At the centre of it all was Archbishop Anthony Pantin who ensured we retained “the people’s touch”.
With the coming of Archbishop Edward Gilbert CSsR, the outlines of an architecture came into sharper focus. Planning and development reached a higher level. We knew the Church could not continue to run itself in the old administrative mould.
He called a Synod lasting a few years which gave rise to the eight commissions, all of which are still alive today in some form or fashion. The commissions worked closely with parishes but very little among themselves, resulting in too much silo thinking and acting.
Archbishop Gilbert drummed into our ears the need for succession planning. He spoke of the ‘Think Four Formula’: Knowledge, Formation, Commitment, Mission, the latter being a buzzword from the papacy of John Paul II to the present. He increased the number of paid curial staff and saw the need to revamp Catholic education.
Archbishop Joseph Harris CSSp continued the initiative on Catholic education and sought to engage youth through the social activities at Archbishop’s House. While finance committees were already functional, he legislated that parish pastoral councils were not optional in this archdiocese.
Every parish was also to have a paid secretary whether there was a resident parish priest or not, as well as a finance officer who was responsible for the day-to-day financial activities of the parish. He also made mention of creativity, imagination, and hospitality in facing the challenges of the 21st century.
Archbishop Jason Gordon got cracking as soon as he came. A team of select laity and clergy soon put together the six pillars: Parish, Youth, Clergy and Vocations, Family Life, Leadership and Catholic education.
The emerging number one priority was Parish and by this time, the architecture had begun to harden.
The first major addition to the parish architecture was the MAT (Ministry Animation Team). The MAT is to implement what the Parish Pastoral Council had envisioned. Other areas came into sharper focus as the list below indicates i.e., the parish architecture should include at least the following:
We must not forget here the 3Hs – Hospitality, Homilies and Hymns, so crucial to parish life today and which must remain a central focus for the rest of this year. Especially as we have entered the Lenten season, we must offer all parishioners, visitors, and friends a moving and fulfilling Sunday liturgy.
To assist with the process of brainstorming and strategising, consolidation and development, we also saw the development of two archdiocesan bodies: Office of Pastoral Planning and Development (OPPD), and the Data Governance Committee (DGC). We can do very little planning without data. Data gathering is now a salient feature of the archdiocesan architecture.
Recently there were meetings with the priests/vicars of the vicariates, the Archbishop and myself. Some general comments are in order:
All three need to be upgraded in importance for three reasons: we are in a year dedicated to St Joseph and we must make an impact on men, especially young men; the archdiocesan departments are reflecting on domestic Church in preparation for a wider archdiocesan discussion on it; and both feed into the 15 months to be dedicated to Family Life beginning March 19, Feast of St Joseph, husband of Mary.
We suggest, therefore, that vicars and their executive assistants keep in touch with all parishes within their region, offering updates and giving assistance where needed.
Time frames should be established for achieving objectives and closely monitored. Finally, continuous evaluation must be implemented so that the tree of the parish is regularly nourished and pruned.