What makes a parish vibrant?
Alive. Healthy. Life-giving. Enthusiastic.
These are synonyms Deacon Phil Lawson uses for the word “vibrant.”
And in working to make parishes in the Diocese of Burlington more vibrant — as called for by the recent Diocesan Synod — it’s import to understand just what that word means.
“We want parishes that their members love being a member of and are so proud of that they want their neighbors and friends to be a part of it as well,” said Deacon Lawson, the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington.
“Parishes are meant to foster lives of holiness and discipleship among their congregations and to bear fruit, inviting others to that same life in Christ,” he said.
To assess vibrancy, look at a parish and ask: Are parishioners growing in lives of holiness? Are there baptisms taking place regularly? Are there more baptisms than funerals? How often is the Sacrament of Penance offered, and how many people are taking advantage of the Lord’s mercy found there? Is there Rite of Christian Initiation program actively in place, and are people being attracted to the life of faith they see in that parish? Are people being received into the Church each year at the Easter Vigil? Is there a robust, faith-filled and enthusiastic religious education program in place for both adults and young people? Are new leaders and initiatives regularly being raised up and encouraged in the parish?
Service is another component of vibrancy. “It is in serving others that we demonstrate and share Christ’s love with them and the world,” Deacon Lawson said.
Josh Perry, director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington, points out that how the Eucharist is celebrated is also a measure of a vibrant parish.
“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, states that the liturgy is the source and summit of Christian life and the Church’s activity. “A parish is liturgically vibrant to the extent that this belief about liturgy is realized within the community,” Perry said. “In other words, a parish’s liturgy that really feeds and nourishes everyone to do the work of discipleship during the week and a liturgy that is really seen as the ‘heart’ of parish life makes for a vibrant liturgy. Liturgy that builds up the Body of Christ — the Church — is vibrant liturgy.”
Music that engages the spirit and encourages participation, the use of ritual that ignites religious imagination and Scripture proclaimed well are all part of vibrant liturgies.
“A parish needs to continually strive to dedicate the necessary resources — material, financial, personal — if there is to be vibrant liturgical celebration,” said Perry, who offers assistance in liturgical evaluation to parishes.
According to Deacon Lawson, challenges to vibrant parishes include an entrenched culture that frowns on change, a culture of maintenance versus one of mission, Vermont demographics and the idea of faith as a private thing that isn’t shared or doesn’t go out into the world.
Yet it is important to overcome obstacles and create vibrant parishes. “Vibrant parishes are life-giving, both for their congregations and their communities. They foster lives of holiness and discipleship among their members and joyfully desire to share that same gift of faith in Jesus Christ with those they encounter,” he said.
—Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.