Serving a Good Meal – Pastor’s Reflection (October 1, 2017)
An Italian cookbook gave me a crucial insight into ministry. The author pointed out that a successful meal features a harmonious succession of flavors and avoids either a discordant multiplicity of tastes or the dominance of one. That insight gets up from the dining table as wisdom for making people comfortable and keeping them engaged.
I have come to see the life of the parish, and each Mass, as a meal at which we would like people to sit down, be comfortable, and engage. What makes for a good diner makes for a true worshipper, delighted in receiving, responsive in thanks and praise, undefended in conversation (with God and with neighbor). Each parish event, and the whole life of the parish community, demands to be crafted as an experience for people, and someone needs to be tasked with viewing it as a whole and keeping its balance, and hence its flavor.
I feel that charge falls to me and I take it very seriously. When I perceive that a Mass has a proper balance of elements nothing rivals my serenity, and when an element breaks the equilibrium I feel like a cook who must serve a dish, knowing there is too much salt in it. At such a moment I taste frustration, even if the guests overlook what lands maladroitly on their palates.
If every dish needs salt and pepper, every liturgy needs information. Since the Parish gathers at Mass, Mass becomes a moment to inform the parish about its life. So we use the bulletin, the announcements, posters, and signs to grab and hold the attention of congregants. But if too much salt ruins a dish, too much information drowns out the other flavors of worship. When we over-tell people about everything, they remember nothing. In my years of pastoring I have erred in both directions. Important events were undersubscribed because people were not told of them, and sometimes people did not come because they had been told too often, in too many media.
So this Sunday we offer a new strategy for conveying information about ourselves, geared to getting the word out and to minimizing verbiage at Mass.
This Sunday we are presenting our first Parish Handbook. We hope it successfully welcomes newcomers to our midst, helps regulars plan their parish year, and invites others into our community. To have an overview of a parish like ours adds a level of understanding and makes for informed participation.
The Handbook pulls a great deal of introductory information out of the Weekly Parish Bulletin. So this will now come to you in a new format that allows more presentation of current happenings. It will also include prayer intentions for the week that will keep you connected to the feasts and concerns of the moment and prepare you for the Sunday ahead.
Because of the comprehensive invitation to prayer in the bulletin, we hope to shorten the petitions we use at Mass.
We think parishioners and regular visitors have become used to taking a worship leaflet as they arrive for Mass. These will now feature on the front cover the information you need for that Mass, such as second collections, Food Sunday, guest preachers, etc. We hope this will shorten pulpit announcements.
These changes come to you courtesy of a sustained collaboration by many parishioners and parish staff. As I say in my introduction to the Handbook, I think this is the most lovely feature of the book and the strategy. I hope you will share my gratitude at the dedication and talent that supports this life we share.
I hope that the handbook and bulletin can become means of evangelization; allowing us to make a healthful and balanced presentation of ourselves. When people read these pages may they recognize that the Gospel is where we get our flavor.