Rather than commit to a New Year's resolution, I know a number of people who embrace a theme. Instead of saying "I will do x" they adopt a singular word: gratitude, hope, or kindness to frame how they choose to live in the new year. I'm down with both. You? I have been flirting with this word for some time and I am ready to stake my claim. My theme for 2021 is: perspective. And, I will let number 10 on my 20 for 2020 tell the story of how this came to be.If you were to ask me to design a Catholic Church—and believe me, no one has—I would offer but two recommendations. It's just my perspective, but being away from my parish church and becoming part of a virtual one has sharpened my vision.
Number one: I would keep the square footage to a minimum.
I do not say this because mass attendance is down and has dropped rather dramatically in the past 15 years alone. Besides, that viewpoint isn't comprehensive. Though many churches have closed or consolidated, others have emerged in areas of the country that were once not largely Catholic. Furthermore, some of these newer parishes are following the model of Evangelical Christian "mega-churches." The motto of Field of Dreams; If you build, he will come is a moot point. They built it, people come! Weekly!
I recommend that a newer church be smaller because there is something to be said for the "feeling of fullness." When it's hard to get a seat, when folks have to stand, and when you are in close proximity to others—it's hard not to feel as though you are part of something. There is a different energy to a room that is full, as opposed to one that has people so far apart a bow is the only way to extend the kiss of peace.
A former colleague who was an outstanding development officer always sought venues for events that would create a "feeling of fullness." Thanks Mary! Such a space allowed others to more readily mix and mingle. One feels as though they are part of something; there is a "there" there. Let's create this in our Church!
Number Two: Design a parish with a "front porch."
I grew up in a post-Vatican II church that was built in the round. While this was meaningful for worship, that structure meant we entered and we exited by different doors. People could come an be totally anonymous. Perhaps if we had a "front porch" or main door our community would have had a different experience.
A front porch—that area outside the main doors of a church—allows for attendees to greet and thank the parish priest. This is the space where families can catch up and where I have met other parishioners. It is also a place where I have wanted to avoid others—which is sure sign that I really should be at mass! The front porch is where a bride and groom can stand and greet their family and friends as one.
Perspective: With COVID restrictions having closed my parish since March, this is a space I have missed. While most people miss the Eucharist, communal singing, and beautiful houses of prayer—I miss that front stoop. But the power of perspective—my 2021 theme shed light on what I already have, albeit in a new way.
As written about in "20 for 2020: Number 6—A Case for Online Mass," though my St. Vincent de Paul parish community is sheltered in place, I have become a member of a virtual one through friends and fellow members of the Notre Dame family. And, just this past weekend, I realized we have a front porch of our own!
After Mass, the liturgical coordinator Kristine seeks volunteers to read the following week. This is usually followed by razzing, updates, questions and unsolicited commentary at Father Tom, by Father Tom and with Father Tom. While I am a semi-regular contributor, my boss stays on simply because he loves hearing what others have to say.
It's our virtual porch—but it's different. Realistically, most parish communal spaces don't work that way. However, after we log off of Zoom, my long time friend Mike aka "Eggroll" or by those who love him most—simply "Roll" and I text back and forth.
|this gave us lots to chat about....|
At SVdP parish in San Francisco, I would have had similar conversations with others and I miss those. But the call to consider perspective—born out of the challenges of 2020—has allowed me to see and appreciate what I do have, in another way. Here's to 2021 vision!
SVdP Parish Porch
ND v. Bama