I had an experience last week that spoke to so much confusion in our parishes. As I think about the book Marketing God and our interest in helping our parishes and ministries reach and engage with more people, it occurred to me that reflecting on the confusion we are seeing might be helpful.
Let me start with a little story. As most of you know, I live in Southwest Florida and attend Mass there. On the Feast of St. Blaze, church was packed for the noon Mass. Truth be told, we often have many, many people attend daily Mass and because there are so many people, we have about six Eucharistic Ministers per Mass. As Mass was ending we were all to line up as if to receive Holy Communion, but this time, to receive the Blessing of St. Blaze.
It so happened that I sat on the side where the priest typically distributes Communion, and now the blessing. I must have a smiling face, for as I stood there, several people asked if they could cut in front of me. Sure, but I did not understand why. One woman finally said, I have never received a blessing from a Eucharistic Minister, that does not feel right to me. We would only have our priest of deacon do a blessing. Poor Father, his line was so long and I suspect many people were moving into that line for the same reason.
Fast forward and I return home to information from the St. Louis Archdiocese about their new program All Things New: Steadfast in Faith, Forward in Hope. It speaks to how the Archdiocese will consider the changes that need to be made there, in St. Louis. That is when it hit me, our Catholic community is so confused!
Those in Florida need to use Eucharistic Ministers to offer blessings because there are so many people coming to church. Meanwhile, in other dioceses parishes are closing, or becoming part of a “family” of parishes. In those locations they are grateful to have a handful of people attending a daily Mass. Add to this the confusion everyone has from COVID. Is the parish open? Are masks required? Are the rules for attending Mass changing again?
The country is beginning to open up from COVID, so people are feeling freer to return to church or travel again. But, the experience of COVID and of faith in each community is different and continuing to change. My fear, when so many Catholics are confused, is that they will do what is easiest and comfortable. Unfortunately, for many, that means simply going to Mass from their easy chair.
I was worried about that all last year. When people form habits, it is really difficult to break those habits. When people are confused, it is just easier to turn back to the habit that worked. So, what do we do? There are many listening sessions occurring of late due to restructuring of a diocese or due to the Synod the Pope declared. Regardless of the listening session occurring, I would begin to ask whether the faith-filled are confused about anything. This does not have to be limited to already occurring session, set up new ones. Or have a “listening session” on a local Catholic radio station. Ask people to share where they are right now with all the changes underfoot and then listen.
Marketing is all about understanding our target audience. Through my lens, I think our “audience” might be confused and we, at a local level, need to understand why.