How does a parish of around twenty people stay open? Not only that, how does a parish of around twenty people thrive – and grow? Nowadays, such a parish would be looked at hard by a diocese and probably be combined with a neighbor or neighbors. Twenty people doesn’t sound like a healthy parish, does it?
Well, the first parish in the Church was just that: twenty or so people. We hear about it today in the Acts of the Apostles. Twenty people, gathered in the Upper Room, where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper, where the Apostles and disciples ran and hid during and after the Passion, where Jesus appeared to them risen on Easter, where they returned to after Jesus returned to the Father, where they were gathered in prayer and expectation. What would they do now? How would they carry our Christ’s commission to “Go, make disciples of all nations”? What did He mean, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”?
And while that parish was gathered in their “church,” in comes the rushing wind, the Holy Spirit, filling their hearts and minds and sending them out – away from that place, into the streets of Jerusalem to proclaim Jesus Christ to all who were there. It didn’t matter what language they spoke or where they came from; all heard the Good News and were amazed by the working of the power of the Holy Spirit.
Friends, how does a Pastorate of 8,000 stay open? How does that pastorate thrive and grow? Today, in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, we are planning for Pastorates of united parishes – just like ours – not simply because we have less resources than the early Church, but because we have the exact same mission that they did: to proclaim Jesus Christ and to make disciples. The answer to the question of how we stay open and how we thrive is the same today as it was in Jerusalem for that first parish.
The Holy Spirit accomplishes the work of the Church – not Fr. Austin, not any bishop, not any “program” or policy. The Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon the Church to send us all forth. You are called and filled with that Holy Spirit, and you are also sent to proclaim Jesus in your neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. We each have our spheres – our worlds – each with its own language that only you can speak. That’s where the Holy Spirit is sending you and using you to proclaim Jesus and make disciples.
Our Pastoral Council has begin to take up the challenge of strategic planning for the future of our Pastorate – how we will celebrate the sacraments, share the Word of God, reach out to the marginalized, and care for our Parishes. This process can only succeed if we recognize that this is the Holy Spirit’s work, and we are simply responding to God’s call to us. Because this is God’s work, we are looking for fruitfulness – those fruits that the Spirit produces in the faithful.
Just as in the Acts of the Apostles, so today, we need leaders – not just “pastors” – formed as disciples and ready to make new disciples through living and sharing the faith we have inherited. We need to be rooted in this “apostolic” faith, and we have to build a culture of encounter and accompaniment – just like the Apostles and early disciples did.
Jesus gives us this mission as a way of sharing in His own mission from the Father. We do this to please God; yet it is only in and through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to do it in the first place.
Peter, James, John, and all the rest started by stepping out the doors of that Upper Room and evangelized Jerusalem and beyond. We will step out these doors into the streets of Dundalk and Edgemere with exactly the same mission. Let’s pray right now for an outpouring of the Spirit into our hearts and the heart of our Parishes, so we can take up that mission with joy.