When I was in graduate school, I took a class on faith and culture that included a segment on immigration. Instead of getting into the issue, we were first asked to share the stories of how our families came to this country. Then, we took the time to listen to how every single person in the room had personally been affected by the issue. It was one of the most powerful experiences of community and vulnerability that I have ever had, simply because we started with listening and sharing our stories.
With a new year comes new opportunities to build or rebuild relationships with the staff we serve with, our parishioners, parents, and especially our teens. It will be tempting to sink back into old structures, habits, and modes of doing ministry “the way things were.” However, the ways we minister going forward will require vulnerability, and we will need to continue to adapt to new needs, issues and circumstances.
Things Are Different Now
We have experienced a collective cultural shift encompassing a wide variety of issues and events: a global pandemic with extraordinary losses and suffering, political and religious division, a surge in activism and deeper awareness of social justice issues, a radically fluctuating economy, and a substantial increase in addiction, depression, anxiety, and suicide. The odds are that everyone you come into contact with has been impacted somehow and is different because of it. Unfortunately, many of them may be holding on to unprocessed grief, loss, anxiety, or trauma. We have to act as though we are beginning at square one with everyone at our parish if we want to avoid running past the important things in the lives of those around us that the Lord is calling us to be present too.
You Are Called To Service, Not Slavery
Before we can do any of that, we also need to acknowledge the ways we are different, the ways we have been hurt, and the ways we have felt taken advantage of, forgotten, or mistreated in ministry. There is a lot of rebuilding to do, but it is not all up to you, so set healthy boundaries. You are called to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), which you cannot faithfully do if you are not prioritizing caring for and loving yourself. Every time you say “no” to something, you are saying “yes” to something else. So, this is your permission to say “no” more this year so you can say “yes” to the things that are genuinely priorities. Say “no” to overcommitting, overworking, losing sleep, working 12-hour days, and not delegating things that other people can easily do for you.
All that being said, here are a few suggestions on how to build and rebuild relationships at your parish in this new year:
First and Foremost:
- Root yourself in prayer and set aside time to be spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally recharged before you dive into ministry.
- Treat every relationship as if it is brand new and invest time in relational ministry.
- Intimacy requires vulnerability, and vulnerability is a two-way street. Be willing to initiate conversations and share how you have changed and your struggles. Sharing personally can be incredibly powerful and break down barriers to build a deeper sense of trust.
- Recognize that many of those you work with have been through similar experiences that you have.
- Spend time in prayer and conversation together. If you do not already, suggest incorporating sharing Glory stories from ministry or personal lives and praying together at your staff meetings.
- Pray specifically for the intercession of your parish namesake.
- Avoid “silo-ing” by building bridges with other ministry leaders and staff members.
- Collaborate to put on an intergenerational event or mission for the whole parish for Lent, Easter, or Advent instead of several separate ones. Planning together will allow more time to build stronger relationships and see how your gifts fit together to serve the parish community collectively.
- Be present. Instead of jumping back into planning a bunch of events, try attending different Masses and other ministries to meet parishioners you would not normally encounter. Pray with the Rosary group, play bingo or bridge with the game group, stick around after Mass to meet someone new without the intention of recruiting them or getting them to come to something.
- Attend a parish event simply to enjoy it with those around you without having to do anything and focus on reengaging with and meeting new parishioners.
- Listen and ask questions to gauge where parishioners are at and what they need so that you can bring this valuable feedback back to the staff and your core team.
Parents and Teens:
- Spend more time than anything else you do focusing on relational ministry.
- Have open office hours where they can drop by to catch up or pray with you.
- In every email, text, phone call, or personal interaction, ask how you can pray for them. If possible, pray for them on the spot.
- Ask regularly for prayer requests on social media and at Life and Edge nights.
- Create a designated place for written prayer requests in your youth room, office, or in your meeting space.
- When appropriate, share prayer requests (without using names) with your core team, parish staff, or prayer team.
There is much rebuilding to do, but you are not called to rebuild a ministry that would serve people well two years ago. God has chosen you to specifically serve in your specific parish at this time in salvation history with those who are around you. He has put you all in each other’s lives for a purpose, so be present to those you serve and serve with. Only then will the path forward become clearer, and you will likely find a wider group of support, friends, and coworkers in the vineyard trekking forward alongside you.