Five parishes embark on ‘Dynamic’ pilot program

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

The call didn’t exactly come out of the blue, but it was unexpected.

Msgr. Christopher Nalty was attending the annual Priests’ Convocation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans last September when he received a phone call from his former seminary classmate in Rome, Scot Landry, a native of Lowell, Massachusetts, who works in Catholic evangelist Matthew Kelly’s “Dynamic Catholic” ministry.

The idea, Landry told Msgr. Nalty, was to launch a pilot program called “Dynamic Parish” in four U.S. dioceses in hopes of encouraging Catholics already regularly attending Mass to become more involved in their faith and in parish ministries.

Extending the reach

In other words, the program would help parishes extend their reach beyond “the usual suspects” who volunteer for many ministries while other parishioners put in their time each Sunday, sit in the pews and leave the parking lot having dutifully fulfilled their church obligation.

“One of the ideas behind Matthew Kelly’s ‘intentional discipleship’ is to have people not just sitting in the pews but actually wanting to learn and be enriched by the faith,” Msgr. Nalty said.

When Archbishop Gregory Aymond gave his blessing to the five-year, Dynamic Parish pilot program, which will be completely underwritten by Dynamic Catholic, the next step was identifying the parishes in the archdiocese that would participate.

“From what we’ve seen and heard, it will be a very comprehensive program that focuses a great deal on personal spirituality and community, energizing people in the pews to get involved,” Archbishop Aymond said.

Landry said Kelly makes the case for the benefits of more “intentional” disciples in his book, “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic: How Engaging 1% of Catholics Could Change the World.” Kelly says enriching the faith of even a small number of Catholics in each parish would make a huge difference in a parish’s purpose and outreach.

7 percent solution

“Matthew found that 7 percent of Catholics give 80 percent of the money, and 7 percent do 80 percent of the service, and there’s an 84 percent overlap between the two groups,” Landry said. “If 7 percent are doing all of the work, what would happen if we had a program that helped increase that 7 percent to 8 percent to 9 percent (and so on) over seven years? You would double the amount of money and service if you engaged 1 percent more each year to intentionally live their faith.

“We believe 1 percent can change the world. We really believe that, and we want to measure that parish by parish.”

Msgr. Nalty put out a call to several pastors who had worked previously with Dynamic Catholic by distributing to their parishioners Kelly’s faith-themed books at Christmas and Easter. The archdiocesan parishes participating in Dynamic Parish are Good Shepherd and St. Pius X in New Orleans; St. Luke the Evangelist in Slidell; Mary Queen of Peace in Mandeville; and Most Holy Trinity in Covington.

21 parishes across U.S.

The other dioceses involved in the pilot are Detroit, Brooklyn and Orange, California. Overall, 21 parishes across the country are participating. Many of the pastors met in Cincinnati last November for an orientation meeting to explain what the goals were over the next five years.

Each parish has formed an implementation team – separate from its pastoral council.

“It’s a pilot program to develop best practices,” said Father Rodney Bourg, pastor of Most Holy Trinity. “It’s geared to the people in the pews who are not currently in ministry.”

Each parish began Advent by showing a brief video during weekend Masses and then asking parishioners to fill out questionnaires “to take the initial temperature of the spiritual life of the parish,” said Terri Derbes, a co-director of the implementation team at Most Holy Trinity.

At Christmas, the parishes handed out copies of Kelly’s book, “The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity.” Most Holy Trinity gift-wrapped the books individually.

Each parish recently held a “dream” session during a weeknight for parishioners, moderated by Tony Ferraro of Floyd Consulting, a parish engagement firm based in Florida. Mary Queen of Peace had 450 people attend, Most Holy Trinity had 250 and St. Luke the Evangelist had 225.

Imagine the future 

“A lot of us as Catholics are stuck in the current moment,” Landry said. “A lot of us look in the rear-view mirror instead of dreaming what can happen through God’s grace. What can we be in five to 10 years? We want to get Catholics to look to the future in hope, first in their own lives. It’s hard for Catholics to be engaged in an organization if they’re not engaged in their life. Once you take care of your physical body and your spiritual dreams individually, then you can dream for your parish.”

During the dream sessions, people used their cell phones to answer questions with one word, and those responses were shown immediately on a large screen.

“The more times one answer came up, the word got bigger,” said Karen Baker, co-coordinator with Gregg Tepper of the implementation team at Mary Queen of Peace.

“I had people coming up to me the Sunday after the dream session saying they were sorry they missed it,” Derbes added. 

“The feedback from the people who attended was, ‘I don’t know how to dream. I’m too much in crisis mode to think about my dreams.’ This helped.”

One of the interesting things about the dream session at Most Holy Trinity was that Derbes did not recognize about 25 people who attended – about 10 percent of the total turnout of 250 – which she considered a good sign.

At Good Shepherd Parish on Napoleon Avenue, Msgr. Nalty said the early returns have been impressive. He had 65 people attend the “dream” session, which, for a small parish, “is not a usual thing.”

“We’ve got 14 people on the implementation team, which is a little unwieldy, but I don’t care,” Msgr. Nalty said. “Of those 14, only one is engaged in any other parish ministry. We’ve got a group of 20-and-30-somethings who are investing in the parish and starting to bring some of their friends. People are starting to hear about it.”

At St. Pius X, implementation leader Susie Veters said the stated goal is to be “a vibrant, energetic, dynamic parish that is positioned to help others grow in their appreciation of the beauty and depth of the Catholic Church and thus lead them to see and know the love of Christ as it is manifested in all areas of life.”

Comprehensive program

Dynamic Catholic will provide material for the parishes involving sacramental preparation such as first Communion, first reconciliation and confirmation and also distribute Kelly’s books.

The program will track statistical measurements in four areas that Kelly believes are important “signs” of a “dynamic” Catholic: people committed to at least 10 minutes of daily prayer; creating a plan to study and learn their faith; being generous in service and finances; and becoming an evangelizer.

“We believe if we help Catholics get better at each one of those things, the entire parish community will experience renewal,” Landry said. “If we track it over a long enough period of time, we can share that data with every Catholic parish in America.”

Landry said the 21 parishes were selected in part for their diversity. They range in size from 500 families at Good Shepherd in New Orleans and  St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parishes in Brooklyn to 5,000 at St. Kilian in Mission Viejo, California. There are inner-city and suburban parishes. Seven of the 21 have Spanish-language Masses.

Most Holy Trinity, established in 2006, is the youngest  parish in the program, and St. Anne Parish in Detroit, established in 1701, is the oldest.

“We wanted to be as representative of the church as possible,” Landry said.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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