Forging the Parish of the Next Millennium

Article excerpt

Following are excerpts from a talk given in May to a meeting of the National Federation of Priests Councils by Fr. William Bausch, retired pastor of St. Mary's Church in Colts Neck, N. J., and author of more than a dozen books on parish and ministry including The Total Parish Manual: Everything You Need to Empower Your Faith Community (Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic, Conn.). The title of the talk was "The Parish for the New Millennium."


The first characteristic of the parish of the next millennium is that it will be lay-oriented and one of shared and collaborative ministry. This has already begun, obviously. The majority of Catholics ... want more democracy. This comes out very, very strongly.

There is need for some background considerations here. After all, Vatican II said quite explicitly the laity have the charism, too, of infallibility. That's in the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," No. 12: "The body of the faithful as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief."

Second, there is a matter of record for lay decision in this church of ours. From the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century to Catherine of Siena in the 12th to the abbesses of the 13th and 18th centuries, they did have jurisdiction and they did participate in decision-making processes. In the second century we have the apostolic tradition of Hippolytus: "Let him be ordained as bishop who has been chosen by all the people." The fifth century pope St. Celestine says, "Let a bishop not be imposed upon the people whom they do not want."

... The fact is that people want more participation in the workings of the parish. Americans' central context is participatory. They are in the midst of a communications revolution and it is no longer possible to control communications from a centralized source. Which means that there is less and less desire for validation from a hierarchical structure or a top-down communication style. ... They and we, as a generation, feel entitled to feedback and talk back, and this has implications for a strictly top-down communications style. Namely, it won't work.

Baptism and charism

The parish of the next millennium will be grounded in baptism and charism rather than ordination and office. It's what I call the "in and out" versus the "in or out." In the uncreative parish you're either in or out. Either you're a member here and you're in those boundaries and you follow the rules in obedience or you're out. In the creative parish of the next millennium, you are in and out. You come to worship and ... you go to your arena of holiness, where you spend 99 and a half percent of your life and you find and uncover God there.

The metaphor switches. The metaphor used to be the barque of Peter. I can remember as a kid seeing it in my church history book: We're pulling all these people out of the water because they are Protestants and Jews and others. They're going to drown and go to hell unless we pull them aboard Peter's barque.

The new metaphor is a swinging door You come in to gather your strength to worship, to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and to kind of go out there. ...

Before, it was always tradition. The metaphor was, we all stood under the funnel and things poured out of the Vatican down to the cardinals down to the bishops and down to us and then we filtered it down to the people. But now, through feminist theology, black theology, liberation theology, we're listening to the experience of the people, so today the tricking down and the percolating up are meeting.

Relational, intentional

The parish of the next millennium will be relationally rather than numerically or institutionally defined. ... The new parish will be more of an intentional and a covenant community, challenging those who come to us for the activity the parish provides rather than for the relationships it offers . …