Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Congratulations to all who have received Easter Sacraments of Initiation this weekend.  We welcome you to the Roman Catholic Church and to this particular Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi.  Thank you to all who have enriched our Lenten experience, helping us to renew our baptismal promises and celebrate the new life that comes to us through the cross of Jesus Christ.  I am enthused that so many participated in small Christian communities throughout the season of Lent, and am particularly grateful to Fr. Bill for his DVD reflections that broke open the scriptures for us.

One of our parish’s strategic initiatives is focused on better engaging our parishioners in the life of our faith community.  Recently I sent a survey to many of our parish households and also, through my column, invited folks to participate in the survey.  It was an attempt to gather data and help us plan how to better engage our parishioners in the life of our parish.  After reviewing the initial survey results, we noticed a significant under-representation of young adult participants (60 of 893).  Given our desire to engage the “next generation”, a focus group was developed to seek feedback of young adults.  Of the 10 participants (4 women and 6 men), half were active in the parish, including leaders in the young adult ministry.  The other half were nominally involved.  After introductions in which participants shared a bit of their “story” on how they came to Raleigh and St. Francis, the bulk of the two-hour evening was spent around two basic questions:

1. What does St. Francis do well?  What draws you here and what keeps you coming back?

2. How can we make Church more relevant to your faith journey and your generation?  What can we do to better engage you?  Where do we fall short?  What does St. Francis need to know about young adults?

In summary, the group was engaged and energized.  They were all appreciative of being invited to be heard.  Here are 7 of the highlights about our parish that I took away from the group and look forward to addressing.

I thought you might find them interesting.

St. Francis is welcoming, especially to non-Catholics.

Just about every participant commented on this, including the welcome that is done at the beginning of Mass “to those from differing traditions.”  Inclusive and accepting were descriptive words.

Sense of outreach to the community. 

Many felt that worship leads to something more, it isn’t just entertainment or “me and Jesus.”  The social outreach and involvement with the larger community and “world agenda” is important to young adults interested in doing outreach, with or without a church connection.

Vibrant liturgy (including music and preaching)

The intentionality of worship, use of symbols, and music are appealing.  Participants affirmed that we’re “doing a good job” here.

St. Francis is so large; it’s hard to feel a sense of belonging.

This came up in many ways with different words. 

It is especially difficult for a single person coming to Mass.  This is an intricate place to navigate and “break into.”

Communication:  The Church moves too slowly.  We’re instantaneous!

The traditional bulletin (that you’re probably holding in your hand) is no longer a way in which young adults receive information. Social networks and electronic communication are important.

We’re looking for convenience, not commitment to the institution. We’ll go where we are fed & welcomed.

We are looking for short term commitment.  Don’t expect us to RSVP weeks ahead. There are lots of opportunities for things to do; going to church (for whatever reason) is just one option.

Vatican II?  Distant history!

At the end I raised a question about knowledge of the Second Vatican Council, its teachings and documents.  They thought they had heard of it and considered it might be interesting.  Fortunately, Pope Benedict XVI has declared a year of faith commencing in October to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council which will provide an opportunity for all of us to learn more about the teachings of the council.

In future columns, I look forward to sharing other aspects of the parish survey.

In the peace of the Risen Christ,

Fr. Mark