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Letters from the Pastor

Fr. Terry - January 7, 2018

Our parish survey has been completed! With the report I was given from our research provider, I would like to provide you with a summary of what I have gathered from the survey.

The goal of the survey is actually twofold. First, it is a measure of engagement in the parish. Secondly, it energizes the parish for the future by helping to clarify communication between the pastor and pastoral staff and the congregation at large, which ultimately strengthens parish engagement.

234 email addresses were collected, and 277 surveys were completed electronically, accompanied by about thirty paper or phone surveys. So, we had just around 300 survey responses.

It is interesting to note that our parish “beats the odds” of the average American Catholic parish in our demographics: while most parishes have the smallest group at 73 or older, here at St. Therese Little Flower that group is the largest. Secondly, we also have less married/remarried (60%) parishioners than the national average (80%).  Another noteworthy point is that newcomers in the parish (two years or less) are of the younger demographic. Our location could be a huge part to play in this, since it seems there are a good number of young couples / singles who are studying/working at the University of Notre Dame, particularly post-undergraduate. Are these newer parishioners changing the picture of the parish? Another factor is that our Young Adult ministries are bearing good fruit in connecting people to the parish and helping them feel at home here.

The percentage of responses about Mass attendance are similar to the national average. Only 10% said they go once per month or less, but we must remember that these results would be different if we were able to get responses from every parishioner in our register. I estimate about 1,000 people at church on Sundays (including visitors), and we have 4,000 people registered. There is still work to be done in engaging people in the most important prayer of the Church. In short, the liturgy is the most important thing we do, and really it is about what God is doing — not us. So if we aren’t attending regularly, we are missing out on God's work of sanctification and salvation.

For member engagement, “Do I feel part of the parish?” is a critical question. This statement was strongly agree for 52% of respondents. 40% are in the 3 or 4 range (neutral or agree) and only 8% in disagreement. This shows that although half of the parish is wholeheartedly involved, others are ambivalent. Once again, this would certainly look differently from those individuals who did not take the survey.

The mission of the parish and parishioner expectations are important for someone to be truly engaged in the parish. Almost half feel they have clarity on these things, while an almost equal portion are unsure. Less than 10% disagreed. More on mission at the end of this report.

We are far above the U.S. average in some ways. One of these is feeling that the pastor and parish staff are interested in the spiritual well-being and growth of our members.  With 45% strongly agreeing and 29% agreeing, it seems clear that we care — as indeed we do. Care allows for trust to develop, which then helps people to share their parish experience with others. We notice that those who answered strongly to this statement are also those who invited others to the parish (“come and see!”). Another related result came from the statement about the parish: we are committed to prayer and spiritual growth. 59% strongly agreed. The national average is 29%. Wow! I am glad that people feel we are committed to this, for indeed spiritual growth is the aim of God’s plan for us: sanctification. Being saints is not “pie in the sky” and it happens one step at a time in concrete ways.

Spiritual life indicators were very high in the parish, compared to national survey averages. These included daily prayer, attending Mass, defending the faith, and allowing the faith to guide our actions and give meaning to life. It also seems that volunteering is evident for parishioners, whether in the parish or outside the parish.

One of the lower responses of the survey (an area for growth) is whether people in the parish have experienced support in spiritual growth from fellow parishioners. With 40% of responses saying “strongly disagree,” I think it is clear we need to figure out ways in our parish for us to help each other grow in faith or persevere through difficult times. This response is particularly interesting because 42% of parishioners are inviting others to the parish. There is something special about the place to many, but just as many feel there is something missing. I believe we need to fix that. Perhaps parish retreat programs or small groups would be a good way to respond to this need.

Parish financial confidence was relatively healthy among respondents compared to national averages. Over 60% of replies showed personal ownership in the parish, a huge factor in people giving financial support to the parish. Many also felt the parish communicated very well the financial goals, priorities, and budget. Finally, almost 80% of parishioners realize that the point of finances is mission: we provide monetary support in order to build up the kingdom of God according to the parish vision.

Members of an engaged parish join into the common vision of being the hands and feet of Christ in the service of each other.  As mentioned above, “Do you feel part of the parish?” is the key question.

But what is that vision? Perhaps our parish mission statement, often confused with our “service prayer” (and intentionally using the same language), needs to be more clearly emphasized in the parish. I believe that the service prayer does help people to get a sense of what the parish is about, but it seems that this survey shows more can be done to communicate what our parish is.

Our mission statement, which I believe was composed by Fr. Tom less than 5 years ago, is as follows:

We, the people of St. Therese, Little Flower Catholic Church, are a Eucharistic family, united in our relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world today, with a mission to share the faith, to serve others, and to promote peace and justice in our world. All are welcomed, loved and needed in our parish family.

Really our mission is simple, and it goes back to the original mission that Jesus gave: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 8:28) You can see clearly the allusion to baptism and "mission" to share the faith. The Kingdom of God is meant to be built up by us in our daily work as Christians living this "great commission," and the rest of the statement above begins to outline more of what the Kingdom looks like.

The fact that we got these responses through voluntary contribution from a portion of our parish has left me wondering: what would these results look like if we could get everyone? Probably they would be somewhat similar, but you would have more responses from less engaged members and thus would see some lower indicators. Nevertheless, it's not worth dwelling on the unknowns. All in all, I thank God for this survey and for the ways it confirms us in living out the mission of the Catholic parish in our own time and place. Our parish staff and pastoral council will work to refocus on this mission and use this survey for our continued benefit in the parish. May we continue to make Jesus the center of our hearts after the example of our wonderful patroness. Saint Thérèse, the little flower, pray for us!

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