If you want to make something happen, put it on the calendar.
Want to exercise more? Set days and times aside for exercising. Can’t seem to find time for prayer or Bible study? You can’t just hope you’ll “find the time” someday, you have to choose specific times of day that you’ll stop what you’re doing, sit down, and pray. It’s true in our personal lives, and it’s true for parishes as well.
As in our personal lives, living our parish mission requires thoughtful scheduling. If exercising after a big meal makes me nauseated, I have to set my plans to avoid that. If I have young children at home, I need to choose times for prayer when they are less likely to need my attention, and types of prayer suited to family life. If my parish is going to evangelize and create disciples, we must use the same thoughtfulness in organizing our communal time.
Last month I wrote about the centrality of the Mass in our lives, so let’s begin with scheduling the sacraments:
- If our daily Mass schedule makes it impossible for parish staff to attend, we are creating a spiritual black hole at the center of our parish life.
- If the Sunday Mass times in the community don’t take into account the typical shift-work schedules at hospitals and other major employers, we may be guaranteeing that nurses, doctors, and others are literally unable to ever attend a Sunday Mass.
- If the whole community is expected to turn out for Confession at a single one-hour time slot, the message is clear: If you aren’t free on Saturdays at 4 pm, no absolution for you.
While it’s impossible to create a sacramental schedule that works for every single person every week, it is possible to reorganize parish life to avoid excluding whole categories of parishioners from receiving the sacraments. In larger communities, several parishes can coordinate schedules to relieve the burden on any one priest, so that, for example, multiple different hours for confession are offered throughout the week, and at least one parish offers a Sunday Mass late enough in the evening for the 12-hour shift workers to attend.
Faith Formation Schedules that Don’t Undermine the Faith
Ironic moments in Catholic parish life: A director of faith formation encouraging a roomful of parents to set aside time for family dinners . . . at a meeting scheduled during dinner time.
(Before you think I’m singling anyone out: Trust me. I hear about parishes all over the country. You aren’t the only one who’s made this goof-up once or twice. We forgive you, and thank you for the work that you do!)
Another common temptation in large parishes, or parishes that have a shortage of classroom space, is to group faith formation programs by age group. It might be little kids on Tuesdays, big kids on Thursdays, adults on Friday evening. There are certain kinds of ministries that are appropriately scheduled this way:
- A program for stay-at-home mothers of young children should take into account baby’s typical nap schedules and older sibling’s school schedules.
- Ministries geared towards retirees can reasonably be scheduled during hours when younger parishioners, who don’t need to be present, are at work or school.
- Events geared strictly towards single, childless professional adults with no other family obligations can be fit in on evenings and weekends according to the participant’s typical schedule.
The vast majority of parish programs and ministries, though, are geared towards people with other family members who also have spiritual and physical needs. It does no good, for example, to wonder why no young mothers will join the women’s group, if that group does not offer childcare, and Mom has already had to take her children to religious education programs on three other evenings that week. It is absolutely crucial that essential ministries like RCIA be offered at various times of the week, and with childcare and eldercare options: Otherwise the message is an unmistakeable people like you shouldn’t be Catholic.
In organizing faith-formation, service, and discipleship opportunities, more people are able to participate, with less strain on family life, if we get out of the age-group ghetto mentality. Rather than one giant youth program that meets once a week and takes up three or four classrooms, offer a variety of smaller faith-formation opportunities for teens throughout the week, alongside or even integrated with programs for adults or younger children. Likewise, while there is typically a need for a distinct sacramental-prep year classroom program, young children and upper elementary children can be divided into two or three mixed-aged religious education programs offered several times a week, rather than trying to have every K3-12 grade in its own classroom.
An assortment of mixed-age evenings, afternoons, and Sunday school mornings also make it easier to accommodate parishioners with less common situations. If the parents of a special-needs child want to meet one-on-one with an instructor in an adapted program, it’s easier to set an appointment time if there are classes or activities for the siblings in the same time slot.
Rather than thinking of elder-care or respite-care as a separate ministry on its own special date and time, consider compiling a list of qualified care-givers to be on call, and making arrangements for the skilled sitter to come serve so that the family member can participate in whichever parish program actually fills the spiritual need. It does no go to offer Mrs. Jones respite care when RCIA is meeting, if she’s already confirmed and what she really needs is to sing in the choir or attend NFP classes.
Guaranteeing Mission Failure
A number of years ago, I joined the Legion of Mary as an auxiliary member. (You can read the story here.) It’s a group whose charism includes active members serving each week in the parish — typically making hospital visits or teaching the faith. The latter is just my thing – great fit! For a few years afterwards, I would periodically consider popping in at a meeting. I eventually gave it up: Meetings were always held on the nights when I was teaching religious ed.
Oops. Scheduling tip: Don’t organize the weekly parish meeting schedule so that people with a specific charism are unable to use their gifts.
You Can’t Do Everything, But You Can Do Some Things
No parish is going to get this hammered out perfectly. It’s impossible to serve everybody completely 100% of the time. Scheduling shouldn’t become a parish gripe-session, in which everyone is encouraged to whine if the calendar isn’t built entirely around their personal needs. There will always be that one person who has a difficult situation and just has to be helped some other way.
It is possible, though, to use effective scheduling as way to add more impact to the ministries you already have in place.
Copyright Jennifer Fitz, 2014
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons