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I N T E N T I O N S
Survey Says…! In November I asked you to fill out the Gallup ME 25 Survey. Thankfully many of you did which allowed the survey to have some statistical teeth. Before getting into the details of the results a word about surveys is in order. I believe it was Mark Twain who once quipped, "there are statistics and then there is the truth". The challenge with survey results or any kind of statistical analysis is that they are a lot like bikini's: they reveal a whole lot but leave the most important parts concealed.
What we (myself and the Parish Council) were looking to measure was the "condition of the spiritual condition" of the parish. So we were not looking for a demographic analysis or a customer satisfaction survey. While those things are important and can yield worthwhile information the heart of a Catholic Parish is really found in how well we are fulfilling our mission as disciples of Jesus. From that point of view we opted for a survey that attempts to measure the spiritual side of things.
The Gallup ME 25 Survey has been used for decades to measure and analyze religious organizations. What their data demonstrates is that in the US there is a whole lot of belief. In fact among the overall population 93% of Americans profess a belief in something, whether a God, or a Universal Spirit. Of those 93% who profess a belief in some sort of deity, 95% strongly agree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Even though a large majority believes in something, there are 50% who are unchurched or affiliated with no Church. Simply put: Americans believe in something but about half don't express that belief in a Church.
Among the Church going only 29% would consider themselves actively engaged in their religious community. In other words 29% are disciples joined in mission the rest are simply believers. The challenge then is obvious: how do we move from being believers to being disciples?
First it is important to state what the rationale is for being a disciple and what the definition of a Christian disciple is. A Christian disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ. And to understand that we need look no further than the words of Jesus and the Gospels. In the Gospels Jesus called lots of people, not always the best and brightest, to a way of life (discipleship) and not just an intellectual exercise (belief).
The key requirements for a disciple are found in Mark 12: 32-31: "to love God with your whole heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself". Or as John puts it, the key characteristic of a disciple is to "Love one another as I have loved you, by this all will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another."
Once we are disciples then what follows is that we are committed to "the teachings of the Apostles, the Breaking of the Bread and prayer". (Acts 2:42-47) We would refer to that as the sacramental life of the Church and our participation in it as a community. The early disciples aside from spending time in corporate worship also took care of the poor and were filled with a spirit of generosity.
The fruit of discipleship is that: "day by day the Lord added to their number". All this is to say that an engaged believer or disciple or an engaged parishioner is committed to living out the vision outlined in the Acts of the Apostles, as it has been handed down to us and expressed in this community at this time and attracts others to join in membership.
So since being a disciple is our primary purpose, how are we doing? For that you will have to tune in next week! For now ask yourself in light of this definition of discipleship how well or not are you doing and how well or not are the members of our parish doing in being actively engaged members?
Love, Fr. John B.
>>> Want to re-read one of Fr. John's past letters?
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