Pastors under pressure can benefit from 'Amazing Parish' program

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by Peter Feuerherd

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Editor's note: "The Field Hospital" blog series covers life in U.S. and Canadian Catholic parishes. The title comes from Pope Francis' words: "I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. …"

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Are you, or do you know, a pastor feeling the pressures of managing what is in effect a large business while at the same time striving to be a faith leader?

Catholic pastors are under perhaps more pressure than ever. They've been asked to lead merged parishes, often when parishioners want to go their separate ways. They are often lone-ranger clerics, in most parts of the country working on their own with little or no other clerical help. There is the routine grumbling about diocesan directives, often sprung with little or no consultation.

And then the roof is collapsing, or the heating or air conditioning needs a fix.

The good news is a variety of groups have sprung up, many in recent years, promising to assist parishes and pastors. The Field Hospital is taking a look at as many as we can.

One such group is called "Amazing Parish". The moniker indicates a tall order, when many parishes would settle for simple survival.

The group, based in Denver, sponsored an April conference for parishes in the Detroit archdiocese. More than 200 parishes out of 226 in the archdiocese were represented by their pastors and a pastoral team.

Expectations were high, noted The Michigan Catholic archdiocesan newspaper, as Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron welcomed participants in his loudest Detroit Pistons' public announcer voice.

A smattering of other parishes from nearby dioceses, including Toledo, Ohio diocese, also participated, as well as participants from the Cayman Islands, who left their island paradise for the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit.

They heard a mix of organizational business sense, marketing tips and Gospel outreach.

Speakers included: Pat Lencioni, a California corporate business speaker/writer and a founder of Amazing Parish; Fr. James Mallon, author and pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Halifax, Nova Scotia; Fr. Michael White, author and pastor of Church of the Nativity, Timonium, Md., and Curtis Martin, founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

Emily Espinola, program coordinator for Amazing Parish, told NCR that the Detroit meeting was the first organized with an archdiocese by the group. Amazing Parish has sponsored five conferences, beginning in April 2014 in Denver.

Amazing Parish began with a group of church leaders seeking to help parishes grow and transform themselves through the management and marketing skills corporate leaders are taught. "It leads parishes through the same leadership training," Espinola said.

A non-profit corporation, Amazing Parish charges $1,000 per parish for each conference, which includes participation by a pastor and eight members of a parish leadership team. Sessions run for two days. The cost is subsidized by donations to Amazing Parish, said Espinola, with the actual costs running three times higher than that charged to parishes.

Amazing Parish offers tips on how to implement Pope Francis' concept of the church as a field hospital, welcoming the marginalized and reaching out to the sick and hurting. "We are equipping parishes with the tools to do that," she said. "We focus on getting organizations healthy," said Espinola.

In social outreach, parishes are asked to consider what is around them. So, for example, if they are located near a prison, a ministry to the incarcerated might be suggested. Emphasis is placed on better homilies; music, of all styles; and welcoming newcomers to churches.

Coming together as an archdiocese offered the Detroit event a togetherness and common purpose. "They bonded together," said Espinola. The support of the bishop of a hosting diocese is key as the group plans future conferences tied to particular dioceses.

(Have you attended an Amazing Parish conference? Did it prove helpful to your work in parish ministry? Or is there another parish ministry support organization you think merits attention? Drop the Field Hospital a line at We are trying to find out what parish support programs are making a difference in contemporary Catholic life.)

[Peter Feuerherd is a professor of communications and journalism at St. John's University in New York and contributor to NCR's Field Hospital blog.]

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