I Want My Parish to Be Radical and Fearless

Guy holding a "help wanted" sign

I Want My Parish to Be Radical and Fearless


Does your parish blow your mind? Does it set your heart on fire with a desire to "go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” literally?

Imagine a parish that feels like this:

You can’t wait to get to church on Sunday because you know it will be so spiritually edifying. You look forward with great anticipation to the profound gathering of people with whom you have the most deep and meaningful relationships. You gather together in awe of the incredible sacrifice of the Mass, which almost everyone in the parish understands to be an indescribable moment of heaven touching earth, a communion of God and his people. You gather together in in love of one another, leuisurely spending time with each other after the liturgy is over, conversing on matters great and small.

Imagine a parish that is so attractive that non-Catholics show up all the time! Usually they are invited by a friend, but some come because they saw an invitation posted somewhere. Or maybe someone even knocked on their door and invited them to an activity that was going on to introduce new people to the parish.

Imagine a parish that is so attractive that non-Catholics show up all the time!

Imagine a parish that was not satisfied with keeping people in the pews, but was hellbent (if you’ll pardon the phrase) on constantly evangelizing people, and challenging disciples to be missionary disciples. There are all kinds of programs to take part in that help you know yourself and further develop your unique gifts and use them for the building up of the body of Christ, the Church. 

My heart is so hungry to be a part of this type of parish community.

Can a parish do this? Is it unfair to expect it?

I think we have to do more than expect it; I think we have to pray and beg for it.

Pope Francis paints a picture of the parish potential in Evangelii Gaudium, paragraph 28. He writes:

"The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”. This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach.” (emphasis mine)

Lest we leave feeling simply happy and inspired, he drops the bomb:

"We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented."


Pope Francis is dissatisfied with the status quo also. He describes what a parish can be, and then states that we aren’t there yet.

How do we get there?

To me, there is no short cut: we need to work. We need to tell our pastors the type of parish community we want to belong to; then we need to offer to sweat and bleed for them in order to make it happen.

We did this with our pastor recently. My wife and I met with him on a couple of occasions to describe the kind of parish we crave. We talked about new programs, re-visioned hospitality, and missionary outreach in the neighbourhoods around us.

We painted a bold picture, but he heard us out and blessed our desires, which was a massive relief! But I would bet that he received it so well because we didn’t ask him to make it happen; we asked for what we were willing to work our butts off for.

If you are thinking of approaching your pastor, keep that in mind.  

I visited a parish that was in my mind the exception to the rule, one that left me amazed and inspired, and hungrier than ever to experience this kind of community elsewhere. This parish is St. Benedict in Halifax, and the pastor has recently written a book about the work they’ve done to get where they are. It’s called Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish. If your heart aches for an "environment of living communion and participation” that is "completely mission-oriented”, buy a copy for yourself and your pastor. Then prepare yourself for what you have to do to make it a reality.

Then, in the words of my friend Ron Huntley, "pray your face off!"

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Can a parish be a "centre of constant missionary outreach?" Is it unfair to expect it? — Josh Canning

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