Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Working Catholic: New Style Parishes by Bill Droel

The late 1800's and early 1900's were boon years for U.S. Catholicism. Immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Eastern Europe and elsewhere populated urban neighborhoods, building churches and schools.  Using Chicago as an example, its Archbishop James Quigley (1854 - 1915) issued a 1910 decree for the construction of more churches so that no one would need to go more more than one mile to worship.  "A parish." he wrote, "should be such a size that the pastor can know every man, woman, and child in it."

   In that very year, there was already a square mile neighborhood in Quigley's diocese with 11 parishes: four for Irish-Americans, two for German, two for Polish and three for other Eastern Europeans.  Over 70% of this Bridgeport neighborhood was Roman Catholic in 1910.  Several other Chicago neighborhoods easily surpassed Quigley's goal of one per square mile.

   With some changes in the lineup, Bridgeport maintained 11 parishes into the 1980's.  In the 1990's the number was reduced to seven.  Today, using some of the same boundaries, Bridgeport has six churches. The same downsizing happened in most East Coast and Great Lakes areas.  Detroit, for example lost 30 parishes in 1989.

   Chicago's wave of closings in the 1990's, eventually totaling 43 churches and schools, occurred during the administration of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin (1928 - 1996).  Noting changes in demographics economic realities and a relative shortage of ordained priests, Bernardin based his planning process on the need to "ensure greater financial stability of our local church." In the 1980's about 80% of Chicago Catholic parishes broke even financially.  During the Bernardin era those that were self supporting fell to about 35%.

   Now comes 2016 and Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich announces "a multi-year planning process," that he calls Renew My Church. Cupich calls upon the imagination and strength of Chicago Catholics to make "the bold decisions that will shape the church for generations to come." 

   Cupich is correct to shift focus away from exclusively bad news to future possibilities,  Nostalgia does not bring back a 1910 or even a 1960 style parish. Those church leaders only good at planning wakes - in this case wakes for buildings and hardware  - should be ignored.  Catholic leaders looking to make "bold decisions" in Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Buffalo, St. Paul and elsewhere might benefit from seven general approaches.  (Two now, five in a subsequent column)  These approaches appreciate that many U.S. cities are rebuilding  from the center outward; that residential urban flight has abated; and that promising neighborhoods are mixed use, mixed income and diverse.  (A subsequent column will discuss the new suburbia)


   There is a lot of talk in church circles about collaboration.  The attitude of "Father knows best" is thankfully giving away to teamwork.  Too much collaboration talk, however, can become an excuse for passing the buck. The days ahead require something of a communitarian entrepreneurial style - minus all clericalism and authoritarianism.  That is, the pastor/administrator of a parish and his or her leadership team must experiment without fear, not waiting for cues from the Chancery that will never arrive.  Don't assign seminary graduates or available clergy to a parish, no matter how pius, unless they are risk takers and self starters.  If visionary priests are in short supply, perhaps the "bold decisions" Cupich seeks include preparation and retention of steady, talented and creative lay leaders for pastoring positions.

   How about ordaining more married men or even women?  It is worth discussing.  But, be quite clear: In the same way that assigning just any available celibate priest is no longer adequate, neither simply ordaining more married men or even ordaining women fits the need.  An urban parish must have an entrepreneurial
pastor, an enterprising business manager and other visionary leaders - men and women, maybe celibate or maybe married.    

   Here's a possible test to determine if this or that person should be assigned as pastor.  Is she or he willing and able to mount a sign on the parish lawn: 
"Financial Independence; No Chancery Grants Next Year."

Borrowing from Protestant Ideas                  

   A wholesome imitation of the Protestant experience is not a viable future for U.S. Catholicism.  But some borrowing is wise.

   The connection between an urban neighborhood and a parish is a persistent and valuable feature of Catholic life.  But strict enforcement of parish boundaries is a thing of the past.  Pastors can't waste energy worrying that another Catholic parish is poaching.  A Catholic church can, like its Protestant counterpart see itself as a set of concentric circles.  Some members live close by, others commute.  Some suburban people work in an urban parish neighborhood.  The parish can with creativity relate to some of these workers.  Some people want an ongoing relationship with a parish; others might usually worship elsewhere but want some special relationship with the parish.

   This is not to say that the traditional invitation to register in a parish should be abandoned or that shopping for a church should occur every weekend. Simply that an urban parish needs all kinds of people at various levels of involvement.  Or, from the vantage of the individual Christian: A primary parish registration does not preclude other avenues to God's mercy.  
     To  be continued .....     

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Working Catholic: Gratitude Deficiency Bill Droel

The coins on our counter and in our pockets carry the slogan “Out of Many, One.” But that is not a common theme in our society nowadays. Instead, writes Jeremy Engels in The Politics of Resentment (Penn State Press, 2015), the operative slogan is “Out of One, Two.”
Democracy plays out differently in various times and places. It means, however, that the populace can routinely hold the powerful in check. Democracy is an alternative to authoritarianism, oligarchy, dictatorship, totalitarianism or aristocracy. James Madison (1758-1831) and other founders of our country wanted a democracy in which citizens had power, but not in free-wheeling anarchistic style. Madison promoted the wide interplay of factions. Each faction would advance its agenda. Each group had to play on a large political field and thus could not succeed without the backing of other groups that shared some part of the original agenda. In forming a coalition the group had to temper its agenda.

In our society, Engels details, Madison's factions (e pluribus unum) are reduced to two (e unibus duo). It is us against those whom we resent. The silent majority resents the loudmouthed pleaders. Those with hard-working family values resent immigrants who supposedly take away jobs. Those who in theory exhibit a Christian lifestyle resent Muslims who supposedly want to take over.

Meanwhile, the powerful elites become more powerful because the mechanisms for democratic accountability are neglected. The grievances of the populace are “channeled at the wrong targets,” says Engels. Resentful rhetoric, as heard on some radio shows and at campaign rallies, is counter-productive. The audience might momentarily feel charged-up; ready to counter their cultural opposites. As Engels convincingly shows, however, the resentment “does not hasten justice.” It actually perpetuates suffering because it locks the aggrieved group into victim status. Instead of honing the political skills that lead to change, resentful groups wallow in blaming, name-calling and pointless behavior.

The rhetoric of resentment contains lots of violent metaphors that eventually have an effect on conduct. Engels clearly states that no direct line exists between, for example, a candidate or radio host who plays to resentment and, for example, a crazed shooter in a school building. Violent language does though create a culture of fear, a culture with weak restraints.
One of Engel’s five chapters is largely given to Sarah Palin, who recently endorsed Donald Trump for president. She obviously does not favor acts of violence. But a close reading of her talks reveals violent terms aplenty. She paints herself and her followers as victims. To Palin, “the other” is not a legitimate political opponent, but a hated evil enemy.

In recent years some people (lay people, some parish staff, a few bishops) have brought the nastiness of the culture wars (a metaphor) inside the church. They don’t let faith enlighten public life; they use the resentments of public life to define our faith. They may think our times require a holy crusade (metaphorically). Their posture, however, certainly achieves the opposite of what they desire. In fact, their ideological notion of religion is dangerous. Their backwards approach is similar to that of radical Muslims who use an ideology to interpret God’s revelation.

The opposite of resentment is gratitude; both an individual attitude of gratitude and a public politics of thanksgiving. To be continued…

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free print newsletter on faith and work.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Working Catholic: Faith and Society by Bill Droel

The phrase new evangelization has entered the Catholic lexicon within the past dozen years or so. Despite a good intention, it has no traction and will soon be discarded. Well, it might catch on overseas, but in the United States it is a non-starter.

The first difficulty is the word evangelization. All Christians are expected to evangelize and a renewed emphasis on that privilege is timely. But in the U.S. the word itself is associated with a particular expression of Christianity and at this late date it cannot cross over into U.S. Catholicism.

The first Protestant denominations on our shores were European imports. They plateaued by about 1790. The growth denominations thereafter were Methodist and Baptist because their structure and style of worship were better suited to the less formal U.S. character. Their members and their clergy (including women) were not required to be highly educated or overly formal. The churches could be anywhere, not just in city central. It was not necessary to learn the entire history of Christianity; an individual’s commitment was primary. This movement, called evangelical Christianity, eventually influenced other denominations and significantly grew, even outside denominational categories. Today there are several branches and many twigs on the evangelical tree.

Ordinary U.S. Catholics associate the word evangelical with this specific Protestant movement, even if their contact with evangelicals is minimum. Catholics in the U.S. can learn from evangelicals. But Catholics are not evangelical, for good reasons. A U.S. Catholic—the regular worshiper or the infrequent worshiper—instinctually knows that he or she appropriates God’s revelation differently than evangelicals. The difference has to do with the manner of using Scripture, of looking at social issues, of becoming a Christian, of praying with others, of growing in faith and even of “going” to heaven. 

The second difficulty is the word new. What is its implied contrast? What was the old evangelization? Did it succeed or fail? What’s different this time around?

The thrust behind new evangelization is the relationship between faith and society. The backdrop is the Enlightenment of the 18th century or what today is called secularism. Today’s reality, according to many Catholic leaders, is a public square (culture, politics and economics) that ignores religious values or, in some cases, is hostile to them. A hyper-secular environment makes it hard for young adults to retain faith, these leaders conclude. The young adult default frame of reference is an unnourishing relativism. To a significant degree this analysis is correct. But it is not new.

The old evangelization occurred in Western Europe from about 1900 to 1965. The 2005 platform of Pope Benedict XVI was a final project of the old evangelization. Many Catholic leaders judge the old evangelization a failure because the rate of worship among Western European Catholics is shockingly low. The history, however, is complex and includes positives.

The old evangelization got stuck on the tension between Catholicism’s desire to influence the changing world and yet Catholicism’s rejection of the modern world. Church leaders wanted faith to make a difference in business, labor relations, public policy, young adult life and more. But their model was, let’s say, too influenced by Christendom. In looking outward at society, Church leaders also looked back with a desire to somehow recreate what they imagined happened before the Enlightenment.

Vatican II (1962-1965), a watershed moment in Catholicism, put aside nostalgia for a time when clergy had direct access to the centers of political and cultural power and for a time when lay people took specific direction from clergy about their conduct on boards of directors, in legislative halls, union meetings, hospital settings and more. Vatican II did not thereby say that all features or overtones of modern life are beyond criticism. But the old evangelization that looked like a church militant gives way to dialogue. According to the Vatican II model, faith relates to society when competent lay people—individually and collectively--go about their normal routines inside their normal settings, all the while allergic to injustice and disposed to mercy.

Admittedly, implementation of Vatican II depends on people who know their faith and sincerely try to live it. A 21st century effort in the U.S. could focus on educating and supporting such lay people. But the new evangelization campaign is not that effort. The phrase doesn’t communicate. The other obstacle, among those U.S. Catholics who have heard of new evangelization, is its association with conservative funding and conservative topics. This impression may not be entirely accurate or fair. Yet even if a better phrase is found, an effective evangelization among U.S. Catholics, especially among young adults, cannot so much as hint of returning to the glory years of yesterday.

Droel edits a newsletter on faith and work for National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)