Fathers James Keiter, left, and Owen Korte discuss collaborative leadership in a video presented during a virtual conference hosted Oct. 1 at the chancery in Omaha. The online meeting focused on the next step in the implementation of the archdiocese’s pastoral vision. SCREENSHOT/ARCHDIOCESE OF OMAHA

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Archdiocese’s ‘big goal’: build missional parishes

Father James Keiter envisions a radical and inspiring picture of the Church.

“My biggest dream, my biggest hope is … where it’s second nature (for people) to have conversations about the faith, about their walk with the Lord, their experience or encounters and what it’s done for them,” said the pastor of three parishes in Cedar and Knox counties.

That image reflects the pastoral vision of Archbishop George J. Lucas for the whole archdiocese. He introduced the next step in its implementation at a virtual conference Oct. 1: Within the next six years, every parish in the archdiocese will become a “missional community.”

The archbishop’s announcement of the “big goal” was the highlight of the conference, which was hosted at the chancery in Omaha. More than 800 priests and parish leaders from throughout the archdiocese, plus archdiocesan staff, attended via the internet.

During his opening comments, Archbishop Lucas stressed the need to “embrace the challenges that Jesus gave to the first disciples of sharing the light of the Gospel, and offering that in a generous and joyful way to as many people as we can.”

The archbishop spoke of the difficulties the Church has faced during the pandemic, but noted that there were already challenges for parishes before the pandemic in the form of declining numbers of Catholics participating in parish life.

BEYOND MAINTENANCE

To survive and grow, parishes must move beyond maintenance mode, said Father Keiter, pastor of All Saints and Holy Family parishes in Cedar County, and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Crofton.

“Statistically, we see the results of parishes in maintenance mode,” he said. “We see lower Mass attendance … smaller (numbers) of registered parishioners … significant drops in the younger folks 35 and under registering in parishes and attending Mass.”

But the goal is about more than numbers, Father Keiter said. It’s about spreading the joy of the Gospel.

“We need to be open to this, because God has so much more for us. This is about every individual parishioner experiencing joy that is complete … in abundance, because that’s what Jesus says he wants for us.”

And that means encountering and falling in love with Jesus, he said.

“Our Catholic faith without a love story is just rules, commandments and traditions, and people don’t stay connected to that. We need to encounter Jesus, to encounter that love story he has for us, and get hooked into that.”

A STEP FURTHER

In 2016, the Archdiocese of Omaha discerned and developed a pastoral vision and accompanying priorities to guide the Church of Northeast Nebraska into the future.

That vision, “One Church – encountering Jesus, equipping disciples and living mercy,” has been the impetus for much activity in parishes around the archdiocese since then, such as training and empowering parish leaders in forming small faith-sharing, Bible study and prayer groups to help parishioners encounter Jesus in their lives and become disciples themselves.

For example, Father Owen Korte, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington and St. Michael Parish in Coleridge, said more than 35 parishioners have received training.

Most formed their own individual small groups, which were blossoming until the pandemic forced limitations on gatherings.

He said plans are being considered for future outreach, which could include brief faith testimonials before Masses every month or two, reaching out through social media and holding classes on prayer.

Father Korte said building missional parishes requires a culture change and mindset shift for parishioners, especially since it’s difficult in small towns because things like people’s faith lives “are kept so private.”

“They have to have a personal encounter with Christ themselves,” said Father Korte. “If it’s something that’s really important to them, their faith becomes important, and then they’re not afraid to share it.”

“I’ve repeated a number of times in my homilies, that today … practicing the faith is not good enough.” And he asks the question, “How many of your kids are still going to church?”

A reason he cites for their absence is “that they don’t have that personal spark inside them that functions on its own,” without being told to.

“I have to have a personal experience with it, and it has to mean something to me,” he said.

SOURCE OF INSPIRATION

“I think our pastoral vision continues to be a good source of inspiration and something that draws us ahead into the future,” said Archbishop Lucas during the conference.

“Right at the heart of it is what we might call the rhythm of discipleship,” he said. “We know that the Lord wants to equip us, to send us out.”

And that “sending out” to fallen away Catholics and those who haven’t received Jesus’ healing message, is the next step in bringing the pastoral vision to full realization.

“I’m challenging myself and I offer the challenge to you to think that God has something really big in mind for us right now,” the archbishop told conference participants.