Rebuilt: Awakening the faithful, Reaching the lost, Making Church matter

In Rebuilt: Awakening the faithful, Reaching the lost, Making Church matter, authors Michael White and Tom Corcoran record in telling detail what they did to make their Church from being just a sleepy- hollow parish with “a languid community aging in place” into a vibrant, super Catholic parish in Timonium, Maryland, a little suburban community jus

Aug 22, 2014

BOOK REVIEW By Msgr James Gnanapiragasam

Author: Michael White Tom Corcoran
Publisher: Ave Maria Press

In Rebuilt: Awakening the faithful, Reaching the lost, Making Church matter, authors Michael White and Tom Corcoran record in telling detail what they did to make their Church from being just a sleepy- hollow parish with “a languid community aging in place” into a vibrant, super Catholic parish in Timonium, Maryland, a little suburban community just north of Baltimore. Consequently, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, in his foreword to the book, says it succinctly, “If you love your parish, read this book.”

However, it is not just a book for the parish pastor or his associate. Rather, the authors make it quite clear that the whole parish, be they parish staff, people in various ministries or parishioners in general, must get into the act to make parish growth a success. The book goes on to say how, step-by-step they got the whole parish involved and interested in what was taking place in the Church. Reading the book, one gets the idea how, by both trial and error, over the years, the duo met barriers of opposition while working on the mission they began in the Church of the Nativity, Timonium. Humour is sprinkled intermittently throughout that makes the book an interesting read.

Initially, they dissect the community, studying it from every angle. The culture of the worshippers has got to change. People have just chosen to worship at Nativity because of “convenient parking”. They have got into a consumer mentality and have become “demanding consumers” just like in the secular world. For most people the Church has become irrelevant. The faithful few attending service were either waiting to get it over with, or making the service so heavy and devoid of feeling, and making sure that the “lost” were lost, and let’s keep it that way! Those Christmas and Easter Catholics do not belong here! Once the authors named the problem, they could set out their vision, mission and strategy.

The moment of change for Fr Michael, the pastor, and Tom, his lay associate, came when they began to visit and learn from the Protestant mega churches, beginning with Rick Warren’s (of Purpose Driven Church fame) Church in Willow Creek. They were able to see the mission that Christ has left his Church: make disciples, and making “intentional disciples” is to seek the lost. This is the way of the New Evangelization. They did not shy away from learning from the Protestants although this earned them the fury of the loyalist Catholics, ‘faithful’ to Rome.

Mounting opposition and suspicions followed their every move as they pursued this journey to change the culture of the community. But persistence won the day. Once the mission was clear, strategy was developed to give everyone a place, to go for the lost sheep, to make Church matter. The emphasis was on the weekend and everything that it involves. The weekend is where the community meets and worships and no amount of effort was spared to give prominence to the weekend. The slogan was “Invest and Invite”. Ministries were multiplied from parking teams to music teams of exceptional quality, to teams looking into mobilizing the next generation, the kids and the teenagers. They believed that great children’s programmes keep the parents coming back to Church.

Authors White and Corcoran elaborate extensively, explaining every aspect of the weekend. They show how the message that is preached has to be most relevant to the community. They go on to suggest that the problem of being impersonal is so common with large congregations and suggest how they began to build small groups which meet to share their lives with the aid of the message preached the previous Sunday. Messages must be relevant and challenging. Whenever the passage is about money and wealth, Fr. Michael takes special care to speak about it since Jesus himself spoke many times about money. Tithing, they feel, is imperative.

What is impressive is the bibliography that is suggested in the end notes, both in print and in the internet. The reader who wants to learn more on a particular topic can go to these aids to further reading. Besides the reading matter, the authors also suggest going to their website www.rebuiltparish.com and listen to interviews by the authors and others on the particular topic that a chapter treats. With all these aids, the reader is spurred on to search for himself or herself how best to market the idea in his or her particular setting.

Any pastor or parishioner who is grappling with the idea of making his own parish relevant today will find suggestions that have been worked on and clearly spelt out by the authors on where to start working out a strategy. And, they are not to be intimidated by a lack of relevance due to differences of race, nationality or culture that is not American. Although the book has been written from an American perspective and setting, the suggestions it gives can be easily targeted for an Asian parish. Many things mentioned about Catholics are so universal that I, as a parish pastor, when reading this book, could only nod in agreement.

The authors have gone to great lengths to show how official documents of the Catholic Church corroborate the direction they have taken, though the approach might seem overly radical. Every Church has a purpose and one has to discover that purpose. Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi says, “Evangelization is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.” One must travel in the direction that God is leading that Church to evangelize. God is in control, not the pastor. The authors are appealing to the reader to ‘let go and let God’. The strategy may be radical. The steps to take might incite fury. We might even lose a few die-hards. But if we do not give it a try, we will never know or move.

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