Renew My Church summit to draw all parish leaders Oct. 1-2

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
September 19, 2018

Close to 2,000 Catholics from the Archdiocese of Chicago will take the next step in moving “from maintenance to mission” at the first Renew My Church summit Oct. 1 and 2 at the Rosemont Convention Center.

The two-day event — with a third day for parishes that have already been through the restructuring phases of Renew My Church — will feature Father James Mallon, author of the book “Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission” (Twenty-Third Publications, 2014) and leader of Divine Renovation Ministries, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“This is a first step toward emphasizing evangelization,” said Father Peter Wojcik, director the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission. “That is what Renew My Church is about. It’s about going beyond our parishes to invite people to an encounter with Christ.”

The pastor of every parish in the archdiocese has been invited, and asked to bring his core leadership team of laypeople.

Those people could be staff members, such as pastoral associates or directors of religious education, or they could be dedicated volunteers, said Father Jason Malave, the cardinal’s delegate for Renew My Church.

“It’s really whoever they see as the core people they can count on to help them advance the mission of the church,” Malave said, noting that 40 percent of parishes in the archdiocese have no full-time ministerial staff besides the pastor.

Renew My Church, he said, is not just a program of restructuring; it is a movement of the church towards spiritual renewal.

Wojcik said the summit marks a new moment in the archdiocese.

“I do think that this is the first time in our history that we ask pastors to bring their core collaborators, people they work, imagine and execute with, to a gathering which is focused on our future,” he said. “As we all know, we do have a great history of innovation, pastoral programs and creativity that was always a hallmark of this archdiocese. The summit will be a time when we take on this role of pastoral leadership as we call and invite each and every community of the archdiocese to pray, reflect and imagine what making disciples would look like for them.”

The mission, he said, is the same as the mission Jesus gave his apostles. But the methods for achieving that must change, as the culture has changed dramatically in the last 50 years or so. A grounding in the faith that used to be transmitted through families no longer is, so parishes must find ways to create small faith communities that can give people a sense of belonging.

“In our world, more people know about Jesus than ever before,” he said. “But few people know Jesus. Because with the people who are leaving the church — if they had a deep encounter with Jesus in their lives, they couldn’t leave.”

The restructuring of parishes that is part of Renew My Church is necessary to make sure each parish community is vibrant and vital, so that it has the capacity to invite people to experience something holy, Malave said. It also offers parishioners and parish leaders an opportunity to let go of the ways they have done things in the past and see if there is a better way to “go and make disciples,” he said.

The summit is intended to help parish leadership teams focus their efforts on that mission.

Marco Oropeza, chief project management officer for the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission, likened it to a farmer sowing seeds.

“What we want is for our efforts to bear fruit,” he said, “and that would be creating missionary disciples. What we have done is throw lots of programs at the parishes — those would be the seeds — but are we spending enough time nurturing the soil? Because we have to do that if our ultimate goal is to grow fruit.”

That will mean helping parishes change and develop their own cultures of evangelization.

“We want to support parishes in any way we can to give them a chance at spiritual renewal,” Oropeza said.

Because some parishes are at different places in the process, not everyone will get the same things out of the summit. But all of them can hear the call to reimagine the role of the faith community, Wojcik said.

The church must emphasize the role of all the baptized in being both called by God and sent out into the world to share the Gospel if it is to fulfill its mission, he said.

“The question isn’t how to be priests or how to be bishops, or how to be laypeople,” he said. “The question is how to be church together.”

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