I promised last week that I would continue to “unpack” my “top five priorities for OSJ going forward,” and I will do that.  But since our Parish Council held an open listening session on Sunday, February 6, and since one of the issues raised at there was “How do we find out if and how the Council responds to our voices when we come to a session like this?” I thought I’d better respond to it directly here, as well as to other questions and issues raised at the listening session.

For starters, the Council and I are not always 100% sure how you (concerned parishioners) will find out “if and how the Council responds” to your voices in every instance.  That is because these open listening sessions in their present format are new this year; and we are all testing and devising the structures as we go along.  We acknowledge, however; that we are sometimes better as a parish at new ideas and programs than we are at follow-up and follow-through.  And we are committed to listening and responding.  At least this time, let me use this column as a way to respond. 

The Council and I did discuss the listening session at length at our regular February meeting (Tuesday, February 8).  Let me thank those of you who came out for the session and brought your concerns; and thank you for the gracious, positive tone.  The sense of the Council Members present was that your interventions were offered in the spirit of “friendly suggestions” to help make our already good parish even better.

The concern about how Council responds to concerned parishioners is actually part of a larger topic raised: namely, the issue of communications.  Opinions continue to be divided, for instance, about the pre-Mass placement of announcements.  Liturgy committee has discussed this several times; and Norm Gouin (as Director of Liturgy and Music) and I will continue to monitor and revisit it regularly.  But to date we have felt – and many parishioners agree – that the least undesirable place for the announcements is before Mass.  To place them after the Prayers of the Faithful disrupts the flow and the prayerful atmosphere of the Mass itself.  To place them at the end makes people feel taken hostage, because once they have received Holy Communion, most Roman Catholics are ready to receive the final blessing and depart.

Another aspect of the larger OSJ communications problem raised at the listening session was that bulletins are ineffectual because they are not read.  I’m not actually sure what we can do about that, except to plead with people to read the Bulletin; because it does remain a key source of information for the parish, at least for now.  As to the expressed desire for more “personal” communication, I wonder how many of you are aware that you can receive the Bulletin via your e-mail each week?  If you would like to be added to the distribution list, just e-mail Eric German, our Administrative Assistant, at germane@oldstjoseph.org

In terms of electronic and social media, let me remind you yet again about our new website (www.oldstjoseph.org), which includes among other new features a weekly calendar of events and an option for online giving.  You can also read my columns and homilies there.  The website is a work in progress, of course; so do feel free to send your digital photos, suggested content, and ideas for new features to Eric at the aforementioned e-mail address.  And do come take a “guided tour” and meet the designers after 9:30, 11:30, and 6:30 Masses this Sunday (2/20). 

And stay tuned, because one of the continuing parish priorities I will comment on over the next several weeks is “the need to collect more data so as to better understand who we are and what we already do, and the need to improve communications and public relations, both internally and externally.”  Future steps under consideration include an alternative e-format for the bulletin, as well as a workshop on marketing and PR for parish leaders. 

Also raised at the listening session was the need for a “parish vision for families.”  Let me note that Norm and I have already been working steadily to enhance the 9:30 Mass.  I sometimes preach to the children as an alternative to Children’s Liturgy of the Word, and I also use the Children’s Eucharistic Prayers.  Norm, for his part, has resurrected the Family Choir; and he is trying to recruit and train young parishioners as lectors, cantors, and servers.  Please note that we have assigned an adult server at 9:30 each week, to oversee and guide the younger ones. 

At parents’ requests, we have added Masses and family retreats to the P.R.E.P. program (events which we may open to all families), as well as weekly teacher e-mails to parents, regular teacher meetings, and regular parent meetings.  (Special thanks to C.R.E., Christine Szczepanowski!)  Currently, Norm is working with the leaders of C.L.O.W. to create a new family-oriented “Way of the Cross for Children” for Palm Sunday (4/17).  Meanwhile, new families with children continue almost weekly to register as parishioners; and the P.R.E.P. program has mushroomed in scope and enrollment over the last several years. 

Is there still more to be done on the “family front”?  By all means.  We could certainly use better facilities for P.R.E.P. classes, for instance; and ideas and suggestions are most welcome.  (Believe it or not, the program was more chaotic when the classes used to meet at St. Mary’s School!)  But as we seek to develop our “parish vision for families,” let me strongly encourage our younger families to take initiative – not only in expressing your needs and desires, but also in helping to bring them to fruition.  Meanwhile, know that for starters, the Council has organized a listening session specifically for parishioners with young families to be held Sunday 3/20 from 10:40 till 11:15 a.m. Come and brainstorm with us then; please watch the bulletin and website for details…

Two last items.  A couple of parishioners voiced concerns on 2/6 about stewardship and the financial support of the parish (we are consistently running behind budget projections with our weekly offertory).  Be reassured.  Another of the priorities I will write about in weeks to come is “the need to address comprehensive stewardship in a sensitive and effective way, inviting all of our parishioners to commit their prayer, time, talent, and treasure to OSJ on a regular basis.”  I have already begun discussing some possible plans with the Finance Council, and we are actively considering our options. 

Finally, liturgical concerns were raised about catechesis for the new translations of the Roman Missal (coming to a Church near you in Advent 2011!), and about the need for more topicality in our General Intercessions (e.g., praying for the victims of the shootings in Tucson).  As regards the Missal, be assured that Norm, I, and the liturgy committee have put together a comprehensive plan to prepare our parishioners for the coming changes between now and November.  And as for the topicality of the Prayers of the Faithful, you should have noticed a change in that regard by now.  I hope that covers all the key issues raised at the open session on 2/6.  If you have further issues or suggestions, don’t hesitate to contact me, any member of the parish professional team, or any member of Parish Pastoral Council.  We aim to serve – to listen and respond!

© 2011 Fr. Daniel M. Ruff, S.J.