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Don't resume, renew

It appears there is no energy or interest to rev up imaginations to develop new approaches to evangelization and catechesis

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Don't resume, renew

The magnificent Cologne Cathedral in Germany. In 2019, more than 540,000 people left the Catholic and Protestant Churches in that country. (Photo: YouTube)

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When purveyors of ideas, services or goods find that fewer and fewer people are responding positively to their advertizing, what do they do? If they remain convinced that their product is a good one, most will reevaluate their marketing, probably firing the previous marketing functionaries and replacing them with new ones more attuned to the market. That is the norm in the commercial world.

In the political realm, broadly speaking, the purveyors take one of two paths. One is to adapt to the reality of the market and reformulate or even abandon the old in favor of a more adaptable, more relevant, more acceptable new.

Another path, the authoritarian, uses various means to enforce “market dominance” without making any changes in its “product.” The situation in Hong Kong today as the Chinese Communist Party moves to crush residents’ yearning for democracy is the latest example of such methods.

What about the Catholic Church? Shrinking and aging congregations and precipitous declines in the numbers of clergy and religious in the traditional heartlands of Catholicism in Europe and the Americas make it obvious that whatever the Church has been doing, it cannot hold onto the loyalty of huge numbers of its people.

The phenomenon is not limited to the Catholic Church; other churches are experiencing the same loss. According to a recent report from Germany, in one year, 2019, more than 540,000 people left the Catholic and Protestant Churches in that country.

For the most part, that reality is bemoaned, but little is done to actually respond to the situation. It appears there is no energy or even interest to rev up imaginations to develop new approaches to evangelization and catechesis.

The response of much of the Church’s management has been to issue declarations and condemnations to which few, if any, listen. In fact, few are even aware of their existence because the Church is not part of their lives and so the intended audience does not hear the declarations and condemnations.

Those who do hear or read them find that they are being blamed for not being part of the Church’s life. “Relativism,” “hedonism,” “selfishness,” “softness” and various other disparagements either explicit or implied are asserted as the reasons for their lack of interest or even hostility to what they who throw those aspersions expect will draw them back once again.

If an advertizing campaign for toothpaste resulted in people’s discarding their toothbrushes, we would blame the messaging. Church management finds it easier to claim that people hate their teeth.

There appears to be little or no willingness to admit that rejection of the message probably has more to do with those who present it than with the audience that is not attracted by or is even repelled by the messengers.

The various shutdowns caused by this pandemic are an opportunity to look honestly at the Church’s public relations problems. We can think, evaluate and create anew.

Many people talk about resuming what was done before the pandemic. Liturgies, schedules, programs, structures — all should come back on stage to do once more the song and dance routines that had been driving audiences away.

After this is all over, those who return to our parishes will know that their faith can survive without the parish, even though membership in a community of believers is important to that faith.

However, if their return brings them back to a system and style that is merely a repeat of the past and is not prepared to celebrate, foster and share that new level of faith, those same people may decide to continue living their faith without a parish.

They will know their faith can be better lived without clerical buffoons convinced that the sacrament of orders absolves them from being professionals who prepare their homilies, celebrate sacraments with joyful hope, keep up to date in developments in Scripture scholarship, theology and pastoral practice, recognize the maturity of their fellow believers, and foster programs of spiritual and intellectual growth in the community (and themselves).

My totally unscientific projection is that in the months after the pandemic subsides enough to allow gathering once again, on average, communities will be some 40 percent smaller than they were before the virus gave parishioners the challenge and opportunity to realize they can perhaps better live their faith without the distractions, distortions and obstacles that so much of the institutions and management of the Church put in their way.

Those Christians will seek each other out and find their own ways to be communities of believers. Some of them will likely be presbyters.

That will be the price for resuming instead of renewing. Sad to say, resumption rather than renewal seems to be the hope of too many whose role should be to foster movement to a new future.

Father William Grimm is the publisher of UCA News and based in Tokyo, Japan. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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