The Archdiocese of Boston, a place where one in every two people is nominally Catholic, said in a story that ran on the Catholic News Agency wire on Sunday that the real solution to its problems of Church finances and a chronic shortage of clergy is not more downsizing, as some have said, but greater evangelization. The Archdiocese’s latest effort at something resembling consolidation, called “Disciples in Mission,” organizes parishes into what are called “collaboratives,” usually of three parishes, where the parish church keeps its independence and resources, but shares a pastoral team and a pastoral plan, including the same priest-pastor.
“Restructuring and evangelization must be absolutely tied to one another so that we don’t get back into the mindset of 'we stabilize by downsizing,'” Father Paul Soper, the Boston Archdiocese’s Director of Pastoral Planning, told Catholic News Agency. “There’s no need for that. That would only be necessary if the Spirit were not still at work in the Church.” Father Soper said that the real plan is for each parish in the Boston Archdiocese to become a strong and effective center for the new evangelization. “Parish-based evangelization works, and we can train for it, but we need strong parishes in order to do so.”
One program in Boston is teaching parishioners to give short Christ-centered witness talks to people in their neighborhood about what the sacraments and the Church have meant in their life. Without good training and formation, Father Soper and other Boston Archdiocesan officials have admitted that evangelization just becomes something theoretical. “A parish looks at a long document, adopts a mission statement, and says ‘okay, well this is our mission.’ But then never does anything about it,” Father Soper said to CNA. About 40% of the parishes in the Boston Archdiocese have had difficulty meeting their operating expenses, and since 1990, 125 parishes have closed in the Boston Archdiocese. Archdiocesan officials have said that the days of shrinking are over.
The witnessing program, Father Snopes said, aims to answer four critical questions about an individual’s Christian experience. “What is it about my relationship with Jesus that draws me to him? Why am I Catholic? Why do I keep returning to the sacraments? What’s my life like when I’m not in relationship with Jesus? If I’ve had a big conversion experience in my life, what was my life like before and what was it like afterward,” the priest illustrated.