Community is what laity want from their parishes

Trevor Pullinger
Parishioners from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport packed more than 10,000 Meals of Hope April 7 in Denning Hall. The meals will go to River Bend Food Bank in Davenport for distribution to food pantries in its service area. The parish raised funds for the meal packing event during soup suppers throughout Lent.

By Marti Jewell and Dan Ebener
For The Catholic Messenger

Past studies of parish life have found that Catholics identify with these six marks of parish vitality: (1) a Sunday experience that includes a warm welcome, solid preaching and inspiring music, (2) engaging formation programs, (3) shared leadership, (4) a close relationship with Christ, (5) an opportunity to serve others, and (6) a community that cares for them.

The participants in our study of 40 diverse parishes across the country recognized all six of these themes; the most important mark of parish vitality for them was “a sense of community.” Perhaps that is because in diverse parishes, building community across cultural lines can be difficult. Perhaps the pandemic lockdown accelerated the importance of community because we lost many of our social connections.

We missed our friends. We missed being with our faith community. We missed going to Mass. We even missed the woman we didn’t know who always sat at the end of the third pew and the older man who came early so his walker wouldn’t disturb anyone. We missed our parish communities.


We felt the absence of community deeply. This is one of the findings of our study of parish diversity conducted for the Catholic Leadership Institute and the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council De­vel­op­ment.  It was no surprise that people from every cultural group we interviewed named “community” as the most important mark of a lively parish.

They wanted more parish activities, engagement in the life of their parish and opportunities to be together. The things that make up community. They also want their parish to be a warm, happy place where they belong and feel welcome. No one wants to be lonely.

So what can we do? First, we need to show up. It really does take all of us, you know. Show up because we are better for being with others and the community is better if we are there!

Then, when we show up, we need to bring something to share. Everyone has something to give.  We can share our voices on parish councils and committees, sign up to be lectors or check in on the homebound. 

Mostly, people want a community where they feel someone cares about them. It is up to us to make this happen in our parishes. Can we offer support to young parents or take the time to talk to seniors? Can we volunteer as youth group leaders, available to listen to teens? Can we take a moment to reach out to a person who has a disability and say, “Good morning”?

The next step is to expand our communities.  We need to be intentional about reaching out to new parishioners or to those who speak another language, as we build intercultural communities. Ensure our parish councils and committees reflect the age, gender and diversity of our parishes.

Perhaps it is not about going back to the way things were but imagining new ways our communities can be richer, more welcoming, more engaging and inclusive. Can we open wide the doors of our parishes, as Pope Francis invites us, and welcome the stranger from the neighborhood, from the margins, those who don’t look or think as we do? If we can, our faith lives and social connections will be stronger for it.  As we build community and accompany one another, we can create the welcoming faith communities we long for.

(Marti Jewell, associate professor emerita, is a professor, author and researcher of pastoral leadership. Dan Ebener is a leadership professor for the Master of Organizational Leadership (MOL) program at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and director of Parish Planning for the Diocese of Davenport.)

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *