WNYC File - Our Lady of Pompeii Parish, Lancaster, has grown to 1,800 families, 50 ministries, and several new programs.
Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Lancaster took a revolutionary idea that invoked an overwhelmingly positive response for the individuals involved and set an example to other parishes which might want to enrich the faith lives of parishioners.
Between the months of May and September of this year, the parish took part in a sabbatical which helped parishioners look within themselves to find changes which might be needed to strengthen their faith as a community. Father Leon Biernat, pastor, and the parish leaders were not directly involved in the sabbatical, but were excited with the end results. The program was run by the other members of the parish, including Deacon John Gaulin.
“The primary objective of the sabbatical was to reclaim the gift of salvation that is being threatened by so many cultural and social forces that are powerful and pervasive in the first part of the 21st century,” Deacon Gaulin said. “We all know the challenges that face every parish and every faith community struggling to live the Christian faith. Our challenge was to figure out how to respond in a way that enabled us to regain a passion for the faith, invigorating each other by placing a real emphasis on opening ourselves to the will of the Holy Spirit.”
According to Deacon Gaulin there were two segments of activities that organized the sabbatical. First there were the committees who did the work of building the blueprint across five areas of focus. These areas were spiritual, building relationships with God; education, deepening the knowledge of their faith; social, expanding relationships with each other; community impact, expanding influence in the community; and administration, effectively using the parish resources to achieve the above objectives.
The second segment consisted of teams focused on involving parishioners in a variety of events and activities held throughout the sabbatical which were designed to draw them into a closer relationship as a parish.
“Keeping in mind no one actually understood what a parish sabbatical was and that we held it during the summer months, I think the response was excellent,” Deacon Gaulin said. “We had over 100 people volunteer to give a significant amount of time to the committees and teams. Another 150 people attended each of the sabbatical events. As the sabbatical progressed, we did experience some waning in interest. As we got closer to the end, and there were many things going on, I think parishioners became much more aware of what was actually being done. By the time we got to the closing Mass, you could just sense that something special was going on. The closing Mass was really incredible.”
Deacon Gaulin described the Mass as beautiful. He said the three parish choirs combined to create one of the most musically beautiful liturgies the parish has ever had.
“The Mass lasted just short of two hours, yet no one left early,” he said. “There was a special feeling – a wonderful Spirit – that filled the church. Everyone seemed to get caught up in the fact that we had just done something really significant for ourselves, for our parish, for our faith. It was powerful and moving. Many people came up to me and told me that there were a number of times that they were brought to tears during the Mass.”
Deacon Gaulin said the parish had achieved the major goal they had set out to complete.
“Specifically, we wanted to build a blueprint for the future, of how to be a parish in the 21st century,” he said. “The sabbatical steering committee and the parish council are already making joint plans to move into implementation.”
Deacon Gaulin believes that the idea of the sabbatical would not only be beneficial for their parish, but for any parish willing to work for a better future.
“This is a very powerful approach to engaging the faithful in a committed effort to acknowledge the significant challenges that face every faith community in our diocese,” he said. “It took a great deal of effort, commitment and willingness to submit personal opinions to the will of God. It required a great deal of prayer and personal sacrifice. It was not an easy event.
“In the end, however, just seeing the energy and enthusiasm created at the closing Mass, you could tell that it had an impact that went well beyond what was able to be seen before or during the sabbatical.”
Father Biernat had planned to be on a sabbatical of his own during the time of the parish sabbatical. Although Father Biernat wasn’t able to take his sabbatical, neither he nor any of the parish staff, took active roles on the committees or teams. While they could attend the events, parishioners had complete responsibility for what happened and what was achieved.
“Father was very supportive during this time,” Deacon Gaulin said. “He gave a beautiful homily reflecting not only his appreciation and gratitude for the effort, but also his complete support for the recommendations – encouraging all of us to pick up a pile of work and move ourselves forward. He was great.”
Deacon Gaulin described how difficult it was in the beginning but also how the struggle as a parish to define their goals and themselves ultimately led to an enriched community which is striving to improve.
“In the beginning, people were just plain confused about what they were supposed to do, how to go about doing what they need to have at the end. As the process evolved, their charters became much clearer and they really began to get a sense of where this was all heading. By the third month, each of the committees was really producing some awesome thinking and dealing with the key challenges that faced their area of focus.
“I can say that those who were active participants on the committees and teams were blown away by how much they learned about their faith and how to dedicate their efforts to the will of the Holy Spirit.”