Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fear Not REALLY Little Flock: How can Eastern Catholic parishes survive and thrive?

Some of my readers already know that my Byzantine-rite priest husband is permitted to celebrate in the Roman-rite in our local Roman-rite archdiocese. The last daily Mass that he celebrated in the Roman rite that I attended was on Monday. There were more lay people there on Monday than at our Sunday Divine Liturgy. 
The Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States will always be minuscule compared the Roman-rite, but I would love to get to the point where our church was full enough that I wasn't always worried that no one would show up. It is the same way I feel when teaching a free class for immigrants. Would they come or would life get in the way? 
I would love your feedback on how to build a church community. What has your church done that have worked? What do you wish your parish would do? What have you personally done to build church community? What is the most important thing that can be done to build up a mission? What is the one thing that you believe destroys church mission? Have you experienced a small church/mission (in any rite)- what is good about it? What is difficult about small church life?

Please leave your ideas in the com box or email me at remnantofremnant@gmail.com I'm working on a post about this subject...


  1. One successful community-building tool we seem to inadvertently utilize is to provide our space to Catholic groups such as Catholics United for the Faith. While this brings Catholics of all types together, our priest's visibility and ability to teach about Eastern Catholicism is expanded, and people become naturally curious about this other side of life and show up for Liturgy.

  2. Work to appeal to the youth. I don't mean be hip and cool and untraditional, but tell young Catholics of all rites about your community. Young folks are curious about new and different things. Every month, students at my college in Atchison, Kansas attend a Byzantine Catholic Mass across the river in St. Joseph.

  3. I have many things to say about this...and I think I'll just write a post. Almost got one last night after the Twitter chatting, but you know, school called...

  4. Chime about college-age and young adults. Don't overlook this age group (18-30 somethings) within your parish!

    Our pastor at our Latin/Roman rite parish has been giving a "shout out" to those who are in college and grad. school, asking them to stay in touch whenever they're back in town.

  5. I think to build community you start with building small groups. Some retreat programs that are out there are CHRP, Christ Renews His Parish http://www.mycrhp.org/MYCRHP/Welcome.html; Cursillo also is great though it is not specifically for parishes. When I was the parish stewardship director my main focus was building community. In a large parish it is easy for people to feel lost. We had breakfast for new families, ministry fair events, social events. We had a newsletter (4x/year) and an electronic newsletter almost every week. In our parish bulletin we have a prayer list for the sick and the armed forces so people can pray for each other. When you say small, how many families are there? I worship at a parish with 3800 families on the books and work at a parish with 800 families, so 800 seems quite small to me, but I sense you are talking about less than that. I have some books too, but I'll email you :) peace

  6. Deanna, very small by Latin-rite standards is huge by Byzantine standards. My parish is 18 families, 12 of whom regularly attend. On a good week, we have 60 people in attendance, 30 of whom are children under age 12. Priest's Wife's parish is similar in size, I believe. We are a small group!

    Priest's Wife, I've got to run off to a meeting this morning, but I'll share my thoughts this afternoon, from my very small, but growing, parish.

  7. My parish is smaller than that...last Sunday, attendance was 40. Dormition: TEN. Week before: 28.

  8. What strikes me when I read this is that the sense of "community" I always feel is so strong in Eastern Rite Churches is still small. In fact, I know Simcha Fisher told a woman who converted from Judaism who was mourning the loss of "community" the way she experienced in the faith of her birth in the Latin Rite may consider trying to attend an Eastern Rite church.

    I like the idea of Mindy's to bring all kinds of Catholics together. I would love to attend those kind of meetings, I feel very drawn to the beauty of liturgy and that would be another idea I would have to maybe throw it out to local Roman rite parishes to have an "open-house" mass. There is not an Eastern Rite parish within 2 hours of us, but one in Charleston, SC does a satellite mass once a month at a Roman rite church in Myrtle Beach and a group from my parish attends. And people from Charleston come up and "help" those who are Roman rite navigate the liturgy.

    I also think the idea of reaching out to college students is good. You never know whose heart God is calling! Prayers for your community!

  9. I don't mean to be critical of the above posters, but everyone who mentioned youth had to also reference college. Only a quarter of young people are college students or college graduates. The Catholic Church has suffered massive loss of non-college (working class) members. In teh past generation teh white working class has gone from the most Catholic to the most unchurches part of society. This is a large part of the reason the Byzantine Catholic church is dying off -- its membership was strongly working class.

    Yet it is somewhere between rare and never to hear this crisis addressed by anyone in the Church. The Catholic Church in the USA will soon look like the demographics 19th century Episcopal Church.

    If you want to evangelize, stop thinking of just college educated people and consider the other 75% of the people.

  10. I live in a mission eparchy(Phoenix), so our largest parishes are still miniscule compared to their latin rite counterparts. I've been in my parish for about 6 years now and have seen the parish composition change pretty dramatically during that time. At todays social time, one of our older parishoners joked that they are outnumbered by all the kids now. We seem to have found our stride by appealing to young, traditional minded Catholic families. After the priest at the local latin mass parish died, my priest volunteered to learn the latin mass and was the bridge for that group until a new Institute of Christ the King Oratory came to town. In doing that, he met many families who attended the TLM because they were tired of the watered down Catholic church they had been receiving and when they got to know him, they were intrigued by learning of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Many of those families would visit our Byzantine parish over the past 5 years and several found that the Eastern church was better for their young, growing families. That outreach has also brought in new families through word of mouth. Father offered up the parish hall on Tuesday/Thursday for the local catholic homeschooling group and that has also generated more interest in our parish.

    In addition, we outreached to a group of secular franciscans and offered our parish hall for their quarterly meeting. A Divine Liturgy was offered in the morning and we picked up a few more families from that. This school year, we are offering a Sunday evening Divine Liturgy at the local university Newman center(inspired by the great work of our parish in Albuquerque) to expose Catholic students to Eastern Christianity.

    Now, the one thing that has to be said about these types of outreach efforts is that it truly takes a village. We can not expect this to be done by the priest alone. Members must be willing to offer their time and talents to try to make it work. For the Sunday Liturgy at the University, my priest solicited input in determining whether or not we should try this and sought committment from members for key positions(Cantor, Lector, Servers, etc).

  11. Another wonderful outreach that happens between our Byzantine parish and the local Roman Catholic Cathedral (which is staffed by Dominicans, who love the Byzantine Liturgy) is that our priest will celebrate the Divine Liturgy every year at the Cathedral on St. Josaphat's feast day. I'm not sure how that came about but it has become a tradition; Father brings holy icons, books, etc. and gets as many Byzantines there as possible in order to help the Romans figure out what to do. :-D

  12. @Patrick hit the nail on the head. We are a Latin Mass family and in May moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where the TLM is sporadically offered but 110 miles away. For us, it was not about language nor is it specific gestures. It us fundamentally about authentic faith and people who walk the walk. Now we attend Divine Liturgy at Holy Transfiguration Skete. I think more Catholics need to know about the depth of Eastern practice. This is an excellent way to raise children who love their Church but becomes critical in areas like mine with few Catholics and even fewer practicing ones. I have a goal of telling more and more people we meet about the Skete and invite them to Liturgy. Some might assume I'm "poaching" Catholics dissatisfied with watered down Liturgy and Theology but I suppose that is what I am doing. In the end, it is what is best fir the Church and our children and that is what matters most.

  13. I wish we had an Eastern Rite near where I live! The closest one if 4 or 5 hours away.

  14. I honestly have nothing to add because everyone here has said so many good things.

  15. The cornerstone for our church has been our priests' commitment to life. Fr. Joe always talks about being open to children within marriages. Children are constantly re-affirmed and celebrated. I have never been to another church (roman or eastern) where children are so heartily welcomed.

    Now of course this might not answer your question in the immediate sense. But over time, those children grow up and get married and *hopefully* stay in the church! That's what happened with my husband! He married me, and I fell in love with the Byzantine rite, and now in 5 years we've added 3 new members :)

    I'm not sure where you live, but I went to some Byzantine churches in Pittsburgh while we were there visiting family, and they were awfully quiet. Not very many children. That makes for a non-lively church.

    Anyway, that's my one point. Did you see my post on saying goodbye to Fr. Joseph? The priest who founded the churches in the PNW is now retiring :( ( http://whenkayleengrowsup.blogspot.com/2013/08/dear-fr-joseph.html) It's so sad, but he has a wonderful priest to replace him at least!

    Our church is thriving very much. There are other things Fr. Joe did RIGHT, but I do think loving children is #1!!

  16. I belong to a very 'Ortho-praxis' church, and I think that is a huge part of its success. I think there are a lot of parishes that kind of 'water down' their Eastern-ness to appeal to Western Christians (ie incorporating the rosary, shortening the liturgy, having a spoken liturgy (!!!), etc) and I think this ends up having the opposite effect. Parish members lose sight of being Eastern Catholic instead of just Catholic, Western Christians might come visit, but do not really get to experience the beauty of the East and so don't really get involved, and so on. This is especially detrimental for those who I have found are Western Christians looking for a genuine Eastern experience and end up so disappointed with what they experience in Eastern Catholic churches that they go 'all the way' and end up in the Eastern Orthodox Church. I believe it is our duty as Eastern Catholics to live the full expression of the Orthodox faith while remaining in communion with Rome (yes, I am one of those... ;) ) but I honestly find that this naturally helps churches to grow. The East has so much to offer spiritually. I remember I used to attend vespers each Sat evening at the local ROCOR church for 2.5 - 3 hours, but honestly, it never felt like it was that long. We need to be proud of who we are and our spiritual tradition and leave the rest to God. - Ruth


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