It never hurts to return to the basics. This is an introductory article to a fifteen-part series called “The Vision of an Ideal Parish” based on an article Dr. Peter Williamson published in 2016. I first published this series as a preparation for our Faith Forward Visioning Process. I return to it now, as we near the end of the construction projects outlined by that same visioning process. Our buildings serve our mission—now let’s return to the basics of our identity as a parish and reignite ourselves in our mission to save souls!

During World Youth Day 2016, Polish Bishops said to Pope Francis, “Holy Father, our pastoral work is based largely on the traditional model of the parish community, centered on the sacramental life. Is there a specific way you can encourage us to build up the Church community in our world fruitfully, joyfully and with a missionary spirit?” Pope Francis’ response was clear and direct and helps us think deeply of our own parish.

“I would like to stress one thing: the parish remains valid! The parish must remain. It is a structure that we must not discard; it is the home of God’s People. The problem is how the parish is organized! There are parishes... who scare people off. Parishes with closed doors.... But there also parishes with open doors, parishes where when someone comes to ask a question, they are told: “Come in, make yourself at home, what can we do for you?” And someone listens to them patiently, because caring for the people of God requires patience; it takes effort!”

“Managing a parish takes effort nowadays, with so many problems. The Lord has asked us to get a little tired, to work and not to rest.... A parish is exhausting if it is well organized. The renewal of the parish has to be a constant concern. How is this parish doing? What is it doing? What is its religious education program like? How well is catechesis being presented? Is the church open? How do we greet people? How attentive are we to them? Is someone always in the confessional? A welcoming parish..... These are the questions we bishops should be asking our priests. “Do you go out? Do you visit the imprisoned, the sick, the elderly? What about the children? Do you have a place for them to play?”

“So the parish is important! The parish.... has to remain as a place of creativity, a reference point, a mother, all these things. It is where that inventiveness has to find expression. When a parish does all this, it becomes – with regard to missionary disciples – what I call a “parish that goes forth”. To be creative, to try to go out and meet people, to put yourself in people’s shoes. This is what it means to be a missionary disciple, a parish that goes forth. To go out and look for people, as God did, when he sent his Son to find us.”

These words were deeply inspiring to me as we launched into our Faith Forward Parish Visioning Process. We, as a Parish community, used these words to evaluate ourselves to see how we were living Pope Francis’ vision and how we could improve. Based on Williamson’s article, an ideal parish has fifteen key characteristics: Trinitarian, Christian, Communal, Missionary, Kerygmatic, Pneumatological, Charismatic, Sacramental, Familial, Catechetical, Youth-filled, Ministerial, Vocational, Generous, and Universal. Let us, again, reflect on these characteristics that Pope Francis holds up as a model for the entire Church

Father Jarrod Lies, Pastor