Monday, January 09, 2012

To Assist in the Progress of Souls...A Website Idea

As a vowed member of the Society of Jesus, I take seriously the mission of the Jesuits, expressed succinctly in the apostolic letters Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae and Exposcit Debitum:
...He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures, and any other ministration whatsoever of the word of God, and further by means of the Spiritual Exercises, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ's faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments. 
Over the last few years, I have become acutely aware that many Catholics in the United States are not being fed. That is to say, they are coming to the celebration of the Eucharist and leaving hungry. Bad music, inaccessible preaching, unwelcoming communities: each of these is commonly cited as reasons why people stop attending their parishes. Yet, in my experience, young adult Catholics don't really "vote with their feet" and find a new parish to attend. They simply stop attending altogether. 


This leads me to make a small proposal, one I'd love to see the Jesuits take on but one, for political reasons, I don't think we'd dare to do. 

I would like to think about a site called "www.parishconnect.com" which would effectively be a hybrid of three platforms:
  1. RateMyProfessor.com - there would be a way for registered users to offer evaluations of their parishes. They could fill out short surveys, online, asking about quality of music/preaching/liturgy/community/services and then, where needed, give more information (Latin Mass? Guitars? Kinds of music? Socials for older adults? Social outreach? A COURAGE chapter? Vibrant Choir? Etc.). These "RateMyParish" profiles would be open to the public: maybe it would be good for some of our parishes/pastors/bishops to get a sense of what their dioceses look like. 
  2. Match.com - users would fill out a profile indicating what they like in terms of liturgical life and social ministries as well as what their expectations for a parish. We solicit feedback from parishioners about their parish experience - this would provide us with on-the-ground feedback on parish life, give us interesting sociological data, and would help us to match potential parishioners with potential parishes. If users are interested, they might even find vocational support, pre-Cana, Marriage Encounter, Youth Groups, etc. 
  3. Masstimes.org - while it would offer any user the times for a parish mass, registered users would have access to (1) evaluations and (2) could be paired up with - a la match.com - with parishes that might match their interests.
I'm thinking from the perspective of my siblings with children. They want to take their kids to Mass, they want to settle into a parish, but they feel like they have to keep shopping around. If they filled out the survey, indicating that good preaching and a strong Religious Ed program were important, perhaps they could be matched with a parish that offers these. When visiting another state, again, it would make finding a Mass less stressful: while not 100% certain, it might help the odds of finding something rewarding. 

As a Jesuit professor once expressed it, our recent graduates "are more likely to register at a gym than they are to register in a parish." Even students who faithfully attend liturgies on campus are reluctant to join a parish, as their experiences of (hopefully) dynamic liturgy are dashed in the average parish. Young adults will drive to get a good cup of coffee. They will drive to the mall. They will drive to the gym. They will drive, they will travel, they will come if they (1) know what they are getting and (2) are able to find it. 

I have worked out some of the logistical issues - how to register users, how it could be funded, the dual platforms I think would be necessary to make it a viable effort - but those aren't exactly necessary to go into here. 

So here's my modest proposal. I'd love to hear feedback on it, especially if this would help Catholics find a spiritual home where they can grow in love for their faith and be fed at the Lord's table. I simply feel it is my duty, wherever and whenever possible, to offer support in this way and the idea of www.parishconnect.com seems one way of doing this. 

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