VOICES: Local congregations must be invited to contribute and lead

Thriving churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship are woven into the fabric of any city, including Dayton, Ohio, and its surrounding towns and suburbs. I am proud to be a lifelong Catholic Christian and want the congregations of our area to remain vital to the Gem City’s health and well being while serving the spiritual needs of their members. Participation in traditional religious houses of worship has declined steadily for reasons too numerous, complex, and controversial to explain here, but let’s explore some solutions.

Our parish is part of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which encompasses 19 counties. According to an article published last September in the Dayton Daily News, in 1970, there were 259 parishes with 529,000 members led by 417 active diocesan priests. Now there are 206 parishes (many have shrunk considerably) with approximately 442,000 members served by 150 active priests. A substantial number (17.5 %) of the current pastors have reached retirement age.

The response to this crisis by Archbishop Dennis Schnurr is a program called Beacons of Light, which groups our churches into parish ¨families.¨ My wife and I are now part of Northeast District #7. Holy Angels, St. Anthony, St. Mary, St. Helen, and Immaculate Conception are all on the east side of Dayton with long and significant histories. Twenty years ago, each of these parishes had its own pastor, and most had assistant pastors. All but St. Mary still have a parish school, one of the primary ways that Catholics pass on their faith to younger generations.  As of July 1, 2022, these five churches will have one pastor and two vicars (assistant pastors). Maintaining the current mass schedule may be impossible, and sustaining four schools will be difficult.

The spiritual, educational, and temporal needs of these five parishes are too great for three priests. But ours is a Church of hope. The Pope, the cardinals, the bishops, and the priests need to listen more carefully to the members of their congregations, call forth their talents, and engage them in building the community - or risk the likelihood of continued closures and decline.

I propose that our parish families have actively functioning lay volunteer committees in the following areas: education, finance, worship and ministry, community outreach and evangelization, and facilities. Education pertains to our schools (pre-K-8) and the religious education of children who do not attend parish schools along with teen youth groups.  A finance committee would help the pastor and vicars to manage money and staffing within the parish family as well as within each individual parish to achieve solvency. They would also manage collections, development, and fundraising efforts.  Worship and ministry would focus on mass schedules, sacramental opportunities, liturgical music, servers, Eucharist ministers and lectors. A community outreach and evangelization committee would focus on each church’s relationship with and service to surrounding neighborhoods, along with inviting new members into the congregation.  A facilities committee would help manage, maintain, and renovate church and school properties.

I don’t want to be part of a denomination in decline.  I would much rather be part of a thriving, growing parish family that better serves the needs of its members and the surrounding community. But the clergy must cooperate with and inspire its members to serve.

Jim Brooks is a retired high school English teacher who writes, coaches tennis, and tutors immigrants.

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