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Current parish statistics

David DeLambo, PhD, author of the “Lay Leader’s Guide” in Today’s Parish, sent in these interesting statistics about the average size of U.S. parishes. According to a recent CARA report, the average size of parishes grew by 36 percent in the last 10 years.

In 2000, just one-quarter of the nation’s parishes had more than 1,200 registered households. By 2010 that had grown to one-third. At the lower end, parishes with fewer than 200 registered households dropped from one-fourth of the nation’s total in 2000 to barely more than one in seven a decade later (24 percent to 15 percent).

The overall average size of parishes grew 36 percent, from 855 households in 2000 to 1,167 in 2010.

CARA, a research agency based at Georgetown University in Washington, also reported these findings:

  • One third of all parishes now regularly celebrate Masses in a least one language other than English, up 50 percent from 10 years ago. Two thirds of those who offer services in another language said they have Spanish-language Masses.
  • The make-up of parishes is becoming younger: “The percentage of parishioners under the age of 40 increased from 41 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2010,” the report said.
  • The median annual parish offering per household in 2010 was $468, but those in smaller parishes gave much more on average than those in the largest parishes.

The Convict and the Pulpit

This is a guest post by Fr. Jim Schmitmeyer, who is a regular columnist in Today’s Parish.

There is a story about a man who built a wooden staircase in a convent chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The stranger’s arrival was an answer to the nuns’ anxious prayers. He constructed an amazing circular stairway without a central post. When he finished the task, the man left without payment or farewell. The sisters concluded that the carpenter was St. Joseph himself.

The people of Sacred Heart Church in Memphis, Texas recently received a new wooden ambo, a handsome, handmade pulpit. Its carved posts, stained and polished, swirl in diagonal patterns unique to the mission furniture of the American Southwest. The ambo’s sturdy frame dignifies its mission: to heft and anchor the Word of God in a community of faith.

Like the mysterious builder who appeared at the Santa Fe convent, the carpenter who fashioned this ambo is –and will remain—a stranger to the people of the community for which it was built. But, unlike St. Joseph, the reason the man’s background is unknown is that he is a prisoner. He is housed in the T.L. Roach Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. His name is a series of numbers. His past contains a darkness that, to this day, haunts his deep-set eyes.

Let’s call him Joe.

Over a period of months, “Joe” toiled in a tight space in a crowded workshop. To his right, an inmate painted team emblems on ceramic footballs. Across the aisle, other inmates hand-tooled leather and crafted cowboy boots. When I would check on the pulpit’s progress, Joe’s arms would be coated with sawdust.  He’d smooth his hand across planed boards and talk about the absorbency of cedar as opposed to oak. We’d inspect sandpaper, scrutinize stain samples, sketch designs then measure and re-measure dimensions. The project required more time than estimated. Joe often looked tired and his shoulders slumped more each week. In the end, his hard work produced a stunningly beautiful ambo.

I would like to report that Joe found the work spiritually fulfilling, but Joe is a quiet man and not prone to self-revelation. He is a former Marine. His speech is comprised of short phrases delivered in a staccato pattern. Occasionally he’ll mention a memory from years back—life on the outside—or refer to a member of the family that disowned him after his trial.

I would like to ask Joe what he pondered as he labored on the ambo week after week. Did he imagine himself at work beneath the gaze of St. Joseph? Did the smell of the lumber make him think of the workshop in Nazareth?

Did the ache in his hands seep into this wood that would bear the Word of God who once bore the sins of the world on the wood of the Cross?

Joe was raised in a non-liturgical church. I once asked him why he attended the weekly prison Mass. He said he liked the Catholic notion of sacrament, mainly Confession. Someday he hoped to muster the courage to join up and actually do it.

“The way you describe Confession,” he held out his hands and cupped them. “It’s something solid.”

I once read about a pulpit in a European cathedral that had demons carved in its railing. Their snarling faces reminded the preacher, as he ascended the steps, of the wages of sin. Today, when I approach an ambo built by a convict, I too am reminded of the power of sin. But soon, in the grip of my hand, I sense the power of mercy. God’s mercy. Its promise flowing down diagonal grooves. Its hope as strong and solid as wood.

Haiti—Does liturgy matter?

snapshot-1263534211.892553I arrived in Houston a couple of hours ago for the 48th(!) Southwest Liturgical Conference Study Week. I’ve been on a plane all day, and I was famished. I fled the high-priced and too-glossy hotel restaurants in search of a neighborhood bar. The Holy Spirit has led me to a hole-in-the-wall place with over a hundred microbrews, a delicious and suitably unorganic bar menu, free wifi, and a garage band playing in front of 30-foot screen showing college basketball highlights.

My topics tomorrow are “Liturgy and Catechesis: A Practical Method for Teaching the Faith” and “Whole Community Liturgy.” As I was tweaking my slides in between bites of dinner, I realized they are really the same topic from two different starting points. The first one looks at the liturgy from the point of view of the catechist. If I’m a teacher, what do I need the liturgy to do so I can teach from it. And the second looks at liturgy from the point of view of everyone else. If I’m a parish leader, how does the liturgy give flesh to and embody who we are as a parish?

What is common to both workshops, of course, is the liturgy. When I was starting out in ministry, it was pretty much a given that liturgy was the central and most important enterprise of the parish. Nowadays, that idea almost seems passé in some circles. But not to me. The world is crying out for the hope and liberation we celebrate and manifest in the liturgy.

The recent earthquake in Haiti is a painful example. How can the church provide any kind of solace for such a horrible tragedy? I saws a new report at the end of the day today, the combined Catholic effort from around the world had collected $5 million in relief funds. That’s laudable and important. But Bill Gates donated a fifth of that by himself. Catholics are required to provide as much physical relief as we can, but that is not the unique gift we bring to this, or any, crisis. We bring hope. We bring the good news that death cannot last. We bring salvation from all darkness, pain, and suffering.

And there is one way—only one—in which we bring that good news. When we offer our sacrifice of praise in the liturgy, we make present a new reality, a new reign, that is in, but not of, this world. It is our priestly sacrifice that reorders the world. Or rather, reconciles the world to its original order.

If you’ve been to Sunday Mass lately, its relevance to the situation in Haiti may not seem clear. If that’s so, I submit it is not because the liturgy has nothing to say to our situation today. Rather, it is because we are not saying the liturgy well. If we are letting our own agendas filter through on Sunday, the good news can be muted. If we are easing up a bit on the two-edged sword of the gospel so as not to give offense, then neither are we giving a clear message of liberation.

So by all means, let’s dig deep and give as much material relief as we possibly can over these next weeks and months. But at the same time, let us invest in music that stirs the soul, preaching that shakes us to the bone, ritual that moves us to holy awe, and a warm embrace of the strangers who are not only on a far-away island but also sitting in the pew right behind us.

A shift in catechesis

Connecting liturgy and catechesis.

See also:

Poll: Inactive Catholics

I think we all agree that we should be welcoming toward inactive Catholics and be reaching out to them. Sometimes, however, we have a giant “IF” behind our welcome. We will welcome them if they meet certain criteria.

Melanie Rigney and Anna M. Lanave have written a questionnaire to help us examine some of our assumptions. They recommend that parish leaders fill out the questionnaire below, and then discuss it with some parishioners who were once estranged from the church. The questionnaire and lots of other helpful information appears in their new book, When They Come Home: Ways to welcome returning Catholics (Twenty-Third Publications).

If you have moment, please take the poll. I’d also be interested in hearing your thoughts. Click on the comments link to share.

Today’s Parish returns to its roots

todaysparishSome of you may have noticed the new logo at the top of the blog, which displays the original title of the magazine. We’ve just completed an extensive reader survey (thanks to all those who participated). One of the key things we wanted to discover is what would make the magazine more attractive to volunteer ministers. About two-thirds of those who took the survey said that returning to the original title—Today’s Parish—would help accomplish that goal.

So step one is complete. Now I’d like to ask your help in getting the word out. Do you have some key volunteers in your parish who would benefit from the content in Today’s Parish? Why not support them with their own subscription to the magazine. I know budgets are tight, but you won’t find a more economical training program out there. And each additional subscription helps assure that Today’s Parish can continue to provide excellent resources for both paid and volunteer ministers in your community.

Click here if you want to read more about the name change.

Click here if you want to order a subscription for a key volunteer.

Why don’t we just wait? Well, I don’t know…

First of all, sorry for my lack of thought provoking ideas.  I call this tax season for musicians.  Beginning on December 25th, I hibernate.  Maybe in my next post, we can discuss the merits of not having a Christmas Day service.  Working for the Protestant Church, I will be hibernating as soon as Colleen and I are finished attending Mass.  (I can’t bring myself to attend one of those “Childrens’ Masses” that are in the afternoon on the 24th just so I can sleep in)

A friend of mine sent me this article regarding the new Roman Missal text called “Why Don’t We Just Wait?”  It is published by America magazine which is Jesuit, so know that going in.  I don’t post it as my opinion, I just post it for thought.

My opinion is admittedly convoluted.   As a practicing Catholic, I feel as though I should trust the Holy Spirit who guides the leadership of the Church.  I mean if I don’t, am I really Catholic?  On top of that there are liturgical scholars much smarter than me.  I’m an organ grinder, which is something you see monkeys doing in cartoons.  I consider myself only one small step above that.

As an American Catholic however, is there really wisdom to the new changes, and has it passed enough tests to really be implementable?  Plus I was always taught true faith questions.  Maybe I was taught wrong?

As a music minister, anything that does not foster congregational participation is just unfortunate.  We worked so hard in this religion to help our parishioners become active members in Liturgy, and I’m afraid this may undermine it.  Whether it will undermine it in the short term or the long term, I’m not wise enough to even venture a guess.  This is an important question in my mind.  If it is a short dose of medicine that will truly help prayerful participation then who am I to stand in its way?  However, if it will be a long term pain that is being implemented out of ideal, reaction, and with the participation of the congregation as one of the last priorities, then I cannot in good conscience say it is a good idea.  Otherwise, I compromise what I believe in as someone who has worked really hard to foster participation.

If it makes you feel any better, I have trouble picking between deomocrats and republicans also.  Your thoughts?

Church readers join Today’s Parish Minister

churchA couple of months ago, the board of directors of the National Pastoral Life Center made the decision to cease publication of Church magazine. I’ve been a reader of Church for most of the time I’ve been in ministry, and it was sad to see the doors close. The silver lining, however, is that Today’s Parish Minister will be fulfilling the remainder of the outstanding Church subscriptions.

Today’s Parish Minister and Church are different magazines, but our goals are very similar. Both magazines share the mission of supporting parish leaders with solutions to the many challenges facing parishes today.

If you are a Church reader, just now joining Today’s Parish Minister, welcome! I hope you’ll contribute your thoughts and let me know how we can continue improving. It’s great to have you on board.

October Today’s Parish Minister, gone to press

October-coverThanks to all of you who recently completed the reader survey for Today’s Parish Minister. I’m excited about
implementing some of your great ideas. Some of the topics you said you would like to see more of included: liturgy, parish council, hospitality, and stewardship.


I had heard the liturgy suggestion before the survey, and I started the “Liturgy tip” column last year. If you turn to page 5, you’ll see eight suggestions for first Communion. Tony Meadows also tackles first Communion in “Diary of a parish priest” on page 28.

Parish council

Many of you know that Today’s Parish Minister started as a resource of parish councils, and I try to maintain that tradition both implicitly and explicitly. In this issue, I asked Leisa Anslinger to write an article specifically for parish councils, “Focus on talents, renew your parish” (page 12). She gives council members and other parish leaders some great advice on how to increase parishioner involvement in the parish. Leisa’s article is a great study piece for councils, especially if you pair it with Cathy Rusin’s “The good steward” column (page 16). In this issue, Cathy gives us some excellent pointers on how to use surveys to create a greater sense of parish identity and ownership among parishioners.


I was glad to see the suggestion for more articles on hospitality. That’s an area of parish life that most of us could spend a lot more energy on. If your parish is ready to ramp up its hospitality efforts, check out the two dozen suggestions from Simone Brosig in “Christian hospitality: The key to effective stewardship” (page 10).


You’ve noticed by now that this entire issue is focused on stewardship. I’ve kept that theme for the October issue for several years now. So if you don’t find something immediately useful in this issue (and I can’t believe you won’t!), look through your October issues from past years. In this issue, besides the articles I’ve already mentioned, be sure to read Michael K. St. Pierre’s column “Tools for evangelization” (page 6). He says:

The concept is simple enough. Healthy organizations feature healthy participants.
A healthy parish understands giving, promotes giving, and highlights giving.

Then he goes on to offer three fresh, innovative ways to reimagine the “time-talent-treasure” mantra.

Also, be sure not to miss Deborah McCann’s moving description of how a parish fundraiser became “Eucharist” for her and her family. She generously shares her own story to give us five simple steps to creating that same sense of community in our own parishes (page 17).

Well, as I said, you’ve presented some exciting ideas. I hope this issue responds to some of them, and I’m looking forward to exploring a lot more of them in the future. One strong message I got from the survey results is that you are passionate about the work you are doing in your parishes. Whether you are on staff or you’re a volunteer, you’re working hard to be good shepherds and leaders in your communities. I am moved by your dedication, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the great work you are doing.

Blessings on all your efforts on behalf of the church.

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