Prayers in Time of Drought

This is a guest post, submitted by Fr. Jim Schmitmeyer, author of the “Can I Get an Amen” column in Today’s Parish. Fr. Jim is the pastor of Holy Angels Catholic Church in Childress, Texas and Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Memphis, Texas. For more ways you can use prayer practices and other techniques to support adult faith, see this article on the Today’s Parish website.

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Nick and Pat stand next to their pickup truck. I lean on the tailgate, my foot propped on the hitch. Nick’s face is drawn, his eyes tired.

“The fire at Dickens took out 75,000 acres.”

For a moment, we stare across the open plain. In the distance, smoke wraps around a mesa, its folds as soft and gray as a bandana.

“Billy Roy helped fight that fire.” I say. “Crystal said he came home at 4 in the morning.”

“Anyone get hurt?”

“Didn’t say.”

Nick and Pat are retired ranchers. Billy Roy is a young farmer, lean and scrappy. All three are my neighbors. For a moment, I imagine Nick backing a trailer to load up cattle, Pat opening the gate, the phlegm of smoke in their throats. I see Billy Roy atop a bulldozer, fear on his face, fire crackling beside the cleats.

In these days of drought, I suspect their prayers sound more like curses than polite requests.

“We gotta go.”

A breeze angles the brim of Nick’s hat. He looks at Pat. “You got co-op books to balance.”

She yanks open the door. “What’s to balance?”

The truck pulls away. I walk to the porch and pull up a rocker. Twilight settles on the fields. Soon, lights atop irrigation derricks begin their nervous winks. It’s a nightly routine. For miles, flashing beams slit the night with stabs of light.

The strobes distract my reverie. Eventually, I make my peace with them and turn my thoughts to seeds and soil and the meager water that falls from hoses in the shape of bells.

South of town, Billy Roy checks the derricks on his brother’s farm. The wheels of his truck rock across furrows of dirt. The headlights polish piles of field stone and, now and then, silver the eyes of a thirsty coyote.

Inside the cab, country music replaces the clang of bulldozer cleats. Yet worry remains. It’s a time of drought, after all, and the ground cracks open like Judgment Day. Cattle get sold and people get religion.

And I wonder if Billy Roy prays among the derricks, amid those bells of water, as hard as he does in the crackle of fire.

The Wrong Reasons Parishes Choose to Use Social Media

This is a guest post from Jared Dees, the Digital Publishing Specialist at Ave Maria Press. He blogs at his website, The Religion Teacher, as well as Ave Maria Press’s Engaging Faith classroom resources blog. He can also be found on twitter as @jareddees.

Before you decide to jump into social media, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration. You must first ask yourself “Why?” If your decision to adopt social media strategies as a part of your parish evangelization is due to outside pressures, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Under pressure, many organizations, including parishes and Catholic schools, are entering into the social media world for the wrong reasons. Consider the following reasons that have influenced organizations to begin using social media prematurely.

  • It is a great way to share announcements. Social media is by its very nature social. Sharing information and announcements does not properly tap into the social nature of these new tools. Digital natives are trained to tune out these announcements and prefer information that they can engage in themselves.
  • It is free. One of the most appealing characteristics of social media is the cost. If it is free, why wouldn’t organizations use it? Many people neglect the cost of time that engaging in social media can place on people. Not only will parishes need to create good content to share and provide updates on social networks, they will also need to invest the time needed to develop and nurture relationships online. This will be something new and challenging for many people. Building relationships is never simple and never quick, but it is always free.
  • Facebook has 500 million people. Just because a lot of people are using social media does not mean that your parishioners are going to engage with your or their fellow parishioners on your Facebook Page.
  • We can focus on social media and forget about our website. No matter how many social networks you join, the parish website is the most important online presence you can have. If there is a weakness in the website, efforts should be made to improve it before anything else.
  • We can reach young people. Unless you involve young people in the creation and moderation of content on social media websites, they are not going to participate. Yes, young people are using social media, but their experience can really hinder a parish’s ability to connect with them if the parish does not know how to use social media correctly.

Take some time to seriously consider they ways in which your parish can use social media. Learn from others and enlist the help of people who are already active in the various social networks and proficient in using the various social media tools.

The Right Reasons for Parishes to Use Social Media

There are a number of reasons that organizations like parishes and Catholic schools begin using social media as a form of outreach prematurely. But what are the right reasons to use social media? How would a parish know they are ready?

  • I can engage in conversation with parishioners. The most powerful opportunity with social media is the ability to establish and develop relationships with people you otherwise would not have been able to reach. Conversations are no longer squeezed into formal meetings or rushed in between events.
  • Parishioners can engage in conversation with other parishioners. Now parishioners can connect with one another and with the parish staff through social networking sites. Connecting via social media is much easier and less involved than connecting on the phone or even by email. The opportunity is there for parishioners to develop relationships with one another that extend into actual parish events and prayerful gatherings.
  • It only costs time. Using social media is free, but it does cost time. The recognition and commitment to dedicating time to using social media is a necessary first step to using it effectively. It takes time to post and engage with people in your social networks. Parishes and schools should recognize this and realize that it will be difficult to see the results of the day to day time that is spent on these websites.
  • I can get more participants at events. One of the primary goals of any online outreach to parishioners should be actual physical presence at events and participation in ministries. Social networking sites allow parish staff to provide another reminder of upcoming events and ministries and to post the people and successes of those events and ministries on an ongoing basis. The more the focus is placed on the people, the more people will come to the events.

If you are beginning to use social media on a professional level or you have been using it for a long time, do not forget that at its very nature it will always remain social. This means that the foundation of social media is relationships. If you are not using the tools to build real relationships with people, then you are doing it wrong. Don’t be afraid to encourage parish staff to be active in social networks and build personal relationships with the parishioners that could blossom into attendance, involvement, and volunteerism.

Good luck!


Bold faith

Sometimes it seems like one of the most difficult things to get Catholics to do is talk about their faith. I don’t mean with each other. We seem to be pretty open about our beliefs with fellow Catholics. But our efforts at evangelizing those who’ve never heard the good news seem weak compared to many Christians from other traditions.

In “Evangelization strategies that work,” Sylvia Devillars discusses how we can move Catholics beyond the doors of the church to tell “outsiders” what we believe and why. She write:

All Catholics are urged to speak out, reach out, and live out the Good News of Christ Jesus, and many parishes seem to be getting the message.

Click here to read her many practical suggestions for going out and reaching out to those who need to hear the good news.

Care for creation

Sometimes it seems like our concern about the environment sprung up after Al Gore went all over the country showing his famous slide show about global warming. For Catholics, however, our care for creation reaches all the way back to the time of Genesis. At the very moment of creation, God made us stewards of it. Even so, our stewardship of the environment is not always evident in our parishes. In “Introduce your parish to eco-stewardship,” Dan Misleh writes:

Care for creation is one of the seven principles of Catholic social teaching as outlined by the U.S. bishops. And although every parish acts on at least some of these principles in various ways—from pro-life month and serving the downtown soup kitchen to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services collections—too few parishes have “concrete programs and initiatives” that provide vehicles to care of creation.

Dan goes on to offer four practical steps any parish can take to become more environmentally conscious. Take a look at his terrific ideas here.

One of your most effective catechetical tools: the parish bulletin

The late Rev. James Field took advantage of every opportunity to catechize his parish. One of his most effective tools was the parish bulletin. Many bulletins are deadly dull, and few parishioners actually read them. But Fr. Jim transformed his parish bulletin into a highly effective communication piece that parishioners would stop by during the week to pick up if they missed Mass on Sunday.

He writes:

I had a pre-defined marker of success: I would begin to see our bulletin in places other than the parish grounds. Soon, I was noticing it on refrigerator doors around the parish; once I saw one on the Starbucks bulletin board downtown; a business man said he always posted it on the office bulletin board. Other markers of success emerged before I had a chance to define them. People started coming to the office door on Mondays asking for the bulletin since they had been out of town over the weekend. When I spied a lady sneaking three bulletins into her purse one Sunday she sheepishly gave me an excuse that has become a motto for us: “I’m sorry, Father, we need one in every bathroom.” Luckily, I understood her to mean for literary purposes only, unlike the Sears Catalog of old.

Read how he did it in his article, “The Parish Bulletin: A Faith-Formation Resource.”

The new Roman Missal

Change is always difficult, and that has certainly proved to be the case with the impending changes in the translation of the Mass. Some people are looking forward to the new translation, and a great many are feeling anxious about it. Nevertheless, the changes are coming, and we who are in leadership have to decide how we are going to best help parishioners incorporate new prayers and responses into their worship lives.

Mitch Finley suggests we give it a chance. He writes:

You may, for a while, find it a bit awkward to use the latest “new and improved” English translation of the Mass prayers. However, you will probably find it rewarding to cultivate an open mind and an open spirit and this will help you to better share these changes with those you teach. Explain to them that it may take a while to get used to the new wording, but it’s still the same Mass. Share with them, too, that because of this new translation, we are using the same Mass words as people all over the world.

Read more of Finley’s thought on the new missal in his article, “New prayers, same Mass.” He has some ideas that will help you explain the changes to your parishioners.

Do you hate parish meetings?

How are the meetings in your parish? Do they last too long, wander off the agenda, and leave you feeling frustrated and drained? If so, be sure to check out some helpful advice from Deborah McCann. She asks about parish meetings:

How can we make these necessary activities energetic, productive, and, yes, faith-filled?

Take a look at the five, spot-on suggestions she offers in “Get more out of parish meetings!

Form new Catholics in Chrisian life

As we prepare to move into the Easter Season, we will have a bunch of brand new Catholics in our midst—all those who were initiated at the Easter Vigil or received into full communion. As you think about what it means to you to “be Catholic,” how would you describe living a life of faith to one of the neophytes? Mia Crosthwaite does a terrific job in “Seven ways for the parish to live more justly.”

She writes:

It’s time to take a step forward in our walk toward sanctity…. As a parish leader, you carry special responsibility to help lead your community toward a deeper understanding of gospel justice.

Check out her article for some idea-starters that will help you lead the new Catholics to an authentic Christian lifestyle.

Use Holy Week for faith formation

Passion Sunday and the liturgies of Holy Week are the richest and most powerful liturgies of the year. And they are also a tremendous resource for catechizing about our faith. Mary Birmingham says,

The aim of liturgical catechesis is to help people not only fully encounter the sacramental mysteries they celebrate, but also to reflect and appropriate meaning from those same mysteries once they are celebrated.

Be sure to take advantage of this amazing part of the liturgical year and provide some reflection for your parishioners on the meaning of the rites we will celebrate. For more ideas on how to do that, see Mary’s article, “Use liturgical catechesis to reinforce Catholic identity."

Who is participating in your parish?

I was having a conversation with a pastoral associate the other day. She was telling me about several of the parish’s small groups and committees. I mentioned that it sounded like she had a very active parish. “Well,” she said, “it’s really just the same 100-200 people that show up for everything.”

Widening out beyond the usual suspects is one of the great challenges of parish ministry. We like things the way they are, and breaking out of comfortable patterns is not usually in our DNA. Fr. Robert Howes shares some of his secrets in “Three rules for increasing participation.” Take a look, and see if you can find some inspiration for growing the number of truly active members in your parish.

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