I have sat in almost every seat in the church.
As a child, a teen, a musician, a priest, a husband, and a dad.
I've listened to many terrible homilies
and I've given worse.
I've fallen asleep and I've been moved.
Yesterday I looked around and noticed the empty pews.
My next thought was--what does a parish usually do in order to 'jump start' attendance?
You got it.....
A Parish Mission.
A time to refocus and recommit and reconcile. Yep same approach for---ever.
I recall when I was in high school of attending a parish mission at my home church.
They put all the high school kids in one room.
I don't remember what we talked about.
I do remember that there were a lot of kids. (Then again, that was when the church still commanded a presence in the community and life in the scandals had yet become public knowledge.)
I wondered if we were on the verge of some kind of 'renewal'
Months later nothing really seemed to change other than we had a phone chain to call and remind kids of a meeting.
Years later I attended another mission at the same church.
I still don't remember what the topic was.
I do remember holding hands to say the Our Father.
Lots of people--then months later the same.
Then as an assistant priest I recall hosting a mission at the parish.
I vaguely remember one talk on the Prodigal Son and the response of the Father.
I recall having some hope that something really cool with the Holy Spirit would happen in the parish.
I think there were some good confessions.
Months later the numbers remained the same and the liturgical routine continued.
We had a few attempts at evening 'mission-type' approaches to parish ministry in the Episcopal Church.
Same story--excitement then eventual status quo.
I remember attending a parish mission just a few years back--I watched these two guys offer prayers of healing and then rub vaseline intensive care into the palms of the people.
The church had people in it every evening--which goes to show you that people really don't care even if you spread hand cream on them.
But then the eventual norm took over--same routine.
A wealth of parish programs and missions are available and even marketed.
Even speakers and retreat masters are marketed today.
So...there must still be a desire.
But for what?
And the ultimate question...What good is it?
Sure the argument could be made for that 'one' soul that comes to Christ. But I am not asking for a reason, I'm just wondering why there doesn't seem to be a staying power with parish missions and faith programs.
I like the approach St James parish (Medjugorje) uses which is basically to get out of the way and allow the Blessed Mother to take your hand and put it in her Son's.
Fasting, Rosary, Eucharist, Scripture, Confession. Nothing new.
What if a parish simply did that?
Michael Ripple is author of A Lost Shepherd, An Ex-Priest's Journey from Sin to Salvation
New Hope Press 2013.