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Strategies for facing parish challenges

Michael White and Tom Corcoran; Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana; 2013. 

Reviewed by Barbara Flynn

rebuiltCARDINAL Timothy Dolan in writing the foreword to this inspiring book asserts that it is one of the most important books written for parish ministry in the present generation.

Fr Michael White and his pastoral associate Tom Corcoran write compellingly of the successes and disappointments occurring over some years as they gradually shaped the congregation of the Catholic Church of the Nativity, Timonium, Maryland, USA, “while anchoring their vision for the community in the Eucharistic heart of the Catholic faith”.

They believe wholeheartedly that the evangelising strategies that were used, despite failures and setbacks, are potentially transferable to reinvigorate other parish communities through transformations of the culture of parish life and values.

After White and Corcoran took up their pastoral appointments in the late 1990s they became aware of a Catholic congregation with a consumer culture in regards to their faith life, a parish characterised by sterile comfortability, non-growth, lack of purpose and nil evangelising effort.

With courage and faith and trust in God’s grace they were open to new and unexpected experiences.

They took time to observe, then to analyse, issues in the parish that characterised parishioners’ interactions and relationships and their “understanding of Church and the reasons why they attended”.

From their study of the involvement, commitment and evangelising outreach of members of congregations attending Protestant mega-churches they acquired wisdom transferable to their context.

Over several years Corcoran and White, with co-operating members of the congregation, witnessed a new vigour from the grassroots up.

They embedded all that they did in orthodox Catholic teaching and practice, the Word of God, and the Eucharist.

The observations of parish life made by Corcoran and White on taking up their postings to the parish of Timonium became the catalyst for much soul-searching which eventually led to finding a way forward but wrought with challenges.

However, with humility and a capacity to tolerate dissenting voices of some people, they persevered, attentive at all times to the opinions of the people.

Their parish moved from a community turned in on itself to one where disciples are being formed, relationships among groups are supportive, and effective strategies are drawing back to worship and involvement a non-church-going population.

Weekend attendance has almost tripled during the tenure of White and Corcoran while commitment to the fundamental mission of the Church has grown.

Essentially in this book White and Corcoran are modelling new methods and new expressions for proclaiming the Gospel message.

They present pathways of action which bring a new fervour of faith to the people of their parish as they become an evangelising congregation.

Members of the congregation seek involvement in ministries and roles using their diverse charisms to rebuild their parish and to actively participate in a fruitful evangelising mission.

The story told of parish renewal by White and Corcoran is difficult to put down.

Each chapter reveals their ability, informed by prayer and the Eucharist, to exercise amazing processes which apply practical theological insights to incrementally increase “the spiritual health of the parish”.

This story has a freshness stimulated by openness to new possibilities.

Bishops, professors of theology, laity and many priests testify to the story of renewal indicating the hope it engenders.

A sequel, Tools for Rebuilding: 75 Really, Really Practical Ways to Make Your Parish Better is recommended as well.

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