In the five years that he’s been pastor of St. Anselm Parish in Marin County, Father Jose Shaji, like many Catholic pastors, has looked out from the altar at a progressively shrinking congregation.
“I’ve seen it especially at the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass, that’s the family Mass,” Father Shaji told Catholic San Francisco in a Feb. 27 interview at the parish in Ross.
After a survey of Mass-goers last fall, he and other leaders have a clearer picture of what brings local Catholics in the door and what keeps them or family members away – and what they can and cannot do about either….
In a nutshell, survey respondents said they appreciated St. Anselm parish and school communities, the beautiful church buildings and for many, the long history of receiving the sacraments there.
The pastor’s openness to lay leadership and candid dialogue within the community earned high marks from survey respondents, said Maureen Dear, chairperson of the parish’s Spiritual Life Committee.
“I was at every town hall meeting and people stood up and thanked Father Jose,” Dear said. The committee is a unique parish ministry that allows laity to “have a say about what speaks to our spiritual needs.”
Liturgy with greater appeal to younger people was repeatedly mentioned in survey results, with “lively, upbeat” music requested as an alternative at least on occasion, to “slow, somber and uninspiring” organ music.
“Music is important to young people,” wrote one respondent. “The current music feels old and from the past — like the church is dying.”
A true minority called for change backward, however, not forward.
“The traditional Tridentine Latin Mass is the way the Mass should be celebrated,” said one respondent. “Vatican II was a big mistake and Satan was definitely present and manipulating the proceedings.”
When it came to the future of St. Anselm and the universal church, an overwhelming majority envisioned a diverse, multi-generational parish community where women, youth, the divorced, singles and LGBTQ community are acknowledged and active.
Some spoke directly to the latter.
A respondent who said her parents raised her in the Catholic Church and whose family attended Sunday Mass at St. Anselm had stopped going to church the previous year.
“I am gay, and I do not feel St. Anselm had the right community for me,” she wrote.
Another called it “embarrassing to be Catholic” as a woman who is excluded from the liturgy and has a gay sibling.
“How do I rationalize being part of something that silences my voice and condemns my family members?” she said.
The perception that the church had not yet “come clean” on the abuse crisis pervaded the survey results, said Dear, with many saying they felt they “couldn’t move forward” unless that happens….
For now the parish is wasting no time making some of the changes reflected in the survey at the parish level. As one example, the parish has started a twice-monthly Sunday night youth Mass with contemporary music that Dear reported is “packed” by young and old.
“The young people have really taken ownership of the Mass and have been very responsible with it,” she said….
The above comes from a March 6 story in Catholic San Francisco.