Bishop Barres is inviting pastors to meet with him in groups to discuss the future of the diocese. I and neighboring pastors are to meet with him on March 8, and he has a question for us that I think some of you can help me out with.
He wants to know what’s been most effective in bringing people back to church.
Some of you reading this have been faithful, lifelong Catholics. That’s great, but you don’t have the experience I’m looking for. And I’m looking for experience, not theories or ideas. I’d like to hear from people reading this who were away from the Church for a part of their lives, and are now regular churchgoers and daily disciples.
What brought you back?
I know some people’s stories from my service as a priest – from confessions, from people I met in activities like Marriage Encounter or the Pastoral Formation Institute, from people who chat with me in the lobby. But I’m sure there are lots of other stories I haven’t yet heard. I’d like to hear them.
Neither the bishop nor I doubt that God’s grace is at the root of people being drawn back to the practice of the faith. But God works through human beings and through the activities, groups, and events we organize together. What first inclined you toward coming back? What helped along the way? What encouraged you in your decision? What’s kept you going in the tough times?
You can e-mail me (email@example.com), or leave me a note. Or you can find me in the lobby after Mass. We’re scheduled to meet with the bishop on March 8. Tell me your story, if you think it will help me to help Bishop Barres.
I find it encouraging that the bishop is asking the question in the way he is: He doesn’t want us, the invitation said, to talk about what’s gone wrong in the church – we all know that. He doesn’t want to hear about the obstacles – we know those, too. He wants to hear about what’s been working for people, so we can do more of that. I’m interested in hearing about that from you, so I can convey your experiences (anonymously, of course) to the bishop.
There’s a second question the bishop is asking, too; and maybe all of you can help me with this as well. He wants to know what will increase the number of young men in the seminary preparing for the priesthood. A few of you may have considered becoming a priest – if you did, what led you on another course? Many of you had close-up experience of children, grandchildren, or nephews as they explored what they wanted to do with their lives: What led you to, or kept you from, encouraging them to consider a vocation to the priesthood? I (and I think the bishop) would very much like to hear the answer to that question, even if it’s painful to hear. There’s a good deal of research that one of the greatest influences on vocations to the priesthood is young men’s mothers, and whether they encourage their sons toward the ministry or don’t. What are your experiences along those lines?
Again, I’d appreciate hearing from you – e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop me a note through the parish office. Later in March I’ll let you know how the meeting went. Until next week, peace.