How Divine Renovation Works in Parishes
A new model on how to transform parishes so as to bring back those who leave and keep those who are in the pews in the Church is spreading in South Africa, as TOM MILES explains.
In his book Divine Renovation, Fr James Mallon proposes a theology and model for how Catholic parishes could move from simply maintaining themselves to becoming missionary communities of disciples of Jesus Christ.
Divine Renovation is based on Fr Mallon’s successes and failures as a parish priest in Canada since 2000, the year when his bishop was crazy enough to put him in charge of a parish.
Since 2010 Fr Mallon’s learning intensified and he has since been appointed to the local diocesan team to focus on rolling out the Divine Renovation model across the parishes of the archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth in Nova Scotia.
This, however, is how he spends only 50% of his time; the other half he is supporting the Divine Renovation Institution in rolling the model across the world.
Divine Renovation conferences are happening across the world. Such conferences were held in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town in 2018.
Because of these conferences, several parishes across our country have already embarked on the process of bringing communities from maintenance to mission, according of to the Divine Renovations model.
The goal here is that the resources which are now available at Catholic bookshops will guide many more parishes to use them in some way, so as to more effectively go out into the world to become missionary disciples.
So why is this so important to me and what is the fuss all about? After all, most of our churches are full—or are they?
I ask this question because it appears at the outset that our churches are indeed full. However, if we really look at where we were and where we are now—and if we are honest with ourselves — there are many leaving our Church, and they are doing so in droves.
There is still lots of elbow room in our pews and I guess that we did not build our churches with the intention of having empty pews or large gaps which ought to be filled.
To bring the people back
Among the proponents of Divine Renovation, the intention is not to debate the reasons why people are leaving the Church. Rather, we seek to work with all those already in the pews to become better missionary disciples, and in doing so equip them to bring those who are away from Christ or those who do not yet know Christ into a meaningful relationship with our Lord, and ultimately to church.
One question I often ask is how many of us know someone who is a Catholic who no longer engages in their faith, or no longer goes to church. 90% of those I ask know at least one person who no longer sees Jesus as important in their lives.
If there are 100 parishioners who know at least one person, that means that there are at least another 100 out there who no longer engage or have a relationship with Jesus.
There are those who will debate my numbers and the sample used in this analysis, but what we cannot deny is that there are more people leaving our Church than those who are being converted or baptised.
The reality is that there are parishes under threat of closing.
Someone once wrote about a thing called a Holy Discontent and asked the question: What is it that keeps you awake at night; what is it that you feel passionate about that you cannot allow this to continue? Well, my “Holy Discontent” is that we are leaking people, and it appears that very little is being done to curb or stop the leak.
There are great initiatives, and we do have a great leader in Pope Francis, but this alone is not going to save churches from closing and more and more people becoming disillusioned.
I am firmly of the belief that all parishes could be healthier, and all leaders can be better. The question is how much longer we will be so inwardly focused while the brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, father and mothers, sons and daughters of those sitting in the pews are leaving.
Again, ask the next Catholic you see if they know someone who has left the Church. I don’t think it is a question of if they do know someone rather than how many they know.
So, what are some parishes doing about this? Well, let me present the story of the Redemptorist parish of the Most Holy Redeemer in Bergvliet, Cape Town.
A parish experience
It officially launched its Divine Renovation campaign in December and weeks later, the parish is still buzzing over the excitement.
The parish combined its regular two Masses into one special Mass. All who attended the Mass on arrival received a warm welcome and a name tag. This was in keeping with their theme for the day, which was taken from Isaiah 43:1: “I have called you by name and you are mine.”
It was the first step in the parish “Game Plan”, one of the key steps in the Divine Renovation process, which Fr Mallon explains in his book and also dealt with in his talks at the conferences in South Africa last August.
Holy Redeemer’s then-parish priest, Fr Gerard McCabe CSsR, gave a homily about God calling us by name to become (more) missional.
During Mass, the core group, which is steering the movement of Divine Renovation in the parish, were presented to the congregation and commissioned by Fr McCabe.
The congregation greeted each other by name during the Sign of Peace, creating an opportunity to really meet and know fellow parishioners.
At Holy Communion each person received the Body and Blood of Christ by name. To many parishioners this was the highlight of the day.
Those not receiving Communion were also encouraged to come forward for a blessing from the ministers—and this too was received by name.
Fr McCabe has been succeeded as parish priest by Fr Anthony Padua, who has embraced the Divine Renovation programme.
At the beginning of the first Mass of the catechetical year, congregants were given the opportunity to greet each other and introduce themselves to someone they hadn’t met before. This created quite a buzz throughout the church.
As had been the case previously, the morning ended with refreshments in the parish hall where new and old faces could mingle and enjoy the company of each other.
Many parishioners have commented that they feel a sense of belonging at Holy Redeemer.
It is a wonderful revival of parish community life at Holy Redeemer, injecting a new welcoming spirit, a new energy into the parish, and an excitement looking forward to what God has planned.
I am encouraged and stirred up by what Holy Redeemer in Bergvliet has started. I believe it is the spark that will lead to many parishes and parishioners around the country burning with the Spirit of invitation, and of sharing of the Gospel with the hundreds of people still outside the Church.
I look forward to sharing stories from missionary disciples from other parishes around the country as we embark on this journey.
I believe this is the beginning of an immense outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our parishes and into the world — a true Divine Renovation in our country.
Tom Miles is the head of regional development at Alpha Africa, based in Johannesburg. For more information on Divine Renovation, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 083 447-6170.