Parishes, like corporations and other organizations, can benefit from a clear statement of their purpose and mission. Such a statement can help hold the parish together, keep it focused, and prevent the parish from being scattered and ineffective.
However, unlike corporations and other business organizations, the mission that drives a Catholic parish is the Gospel of Jesus. A parish mission statement that is based on the Gospel can help prevent the parish from becoming too centered on disconnected programs or finances.
With this in mind, the Parish Council and I have been working through much of the past year on a draft Statement of Parish Identity and Mission for St. Thomas More parish. The process we have used in our work has been based in a common Ignatian-style prayer. We have imagined how Jesus views STM – what delights him, and what saddens him. We have tried to be attentive to what Jesus would have us do in his name.
STM parishioners may remember engaging in a similar exercise several months ago when we did an Examen prayer together at all the Masses. Parishioners prayed to see ourselves with the eyes of Jesus. They then recorded what they saw in ourselves on index cards and forwarded these cards to the Council. The Council then took what parishioners had written and incorporated this feedback into its own thinking.
The Council and I now have a draft STM Identity and Mission Statement for parishioners to review. The full text of the Statement is available on-line on the STM website (www.stmgaparish.org). Hard copies of the Statement are in the pamphlet rack in the narthex of the church. In place of the homily, I will present the draft Statement at all the Masses the weekends of October 8 and 15. Paper copies of the Statement will be in the pews on those weekends. The Council and I invite your feedback either in writing (there is a place for comments on the paper copies in the narthex) or in public gatherings after the Masses on those weekends.
When you read the draft Statement, you will see that it is divided into three sections: 1) a mission statement, 2) a statement of “Our Way of Proceeding,” and 3) a statement of what we intend to do as ministry.
The “mission statement” is meant to be a brief declaration of who we understand ourselves to be. The draft statement prepared by the Council emphasizes our identity as disciples of Jesus, that is, we are those persons through whom Jesus is alive and active at this time in St. Thomas More parish. The idea is that, if we are the Christ in this time and place, we must be doing what Jesus would do here and now. In other words, our identity shapes what we do.
The “way of proceeding” is a statement of how we intend to do things at STM. It expresses the attitudes that underlie whatever we do. This part of the draft statement emphasizes the gratitude that prompts our actions, our strong connection to the larger Church of Atlanta and Society of Jesus, our desire to be an inclusive community, our desire to work together as true companions and colleagues, and our desire to do all that we do “for the greater glory of God.”
The “Parish Ministries” section describes what we intend to do well into the foreseeable future. This section is meant to serve as a guide to parishioners, especially parish leaders, as they decide what ministries to undertake from among an almost infinite number of possibilities. The guide is broad enough to allow flexibility, but specific enough to provide guidance. Parishioners will note that there is nothing controversial here; it focuses us and reminds us what committed Catholics should be doing most everywhere.
For instance, the statement declares that Sunday Eucharist is at the center of our parish life, and that we will celebrate Sunday Eucharist in ways that encourage the “full, active, and conscious participation” of all parishioners; that we as a parish are committed to teaching and promoting the practice of Ignatian prayer and spirituality, and that this spirituality should inform all that we do; that we must always be about building up our parish community in ways that include all members, with special attention to parishioners in need; and that we need to be substantially oriented outward to the community around us, rather than turned in on ourselves.
Once we adopt this Statement of Identity and Mission – or some variation on it – the Council and I hope that it will hold us together and set us on a common path. But this can happen only if we allow it to make a claim on each of us and to shape how we participate in our parish community. I encourage you to spend some time with this draft Statement. Pray over it and provide feedback to me and the Council.