Our Diocese of Saint John faces many challenges. This is not the first time we have done so. Since its beginning 175 years ago, we have lived through many eras of change, responding to the needs of the time. These periods, though challenging, proved to be opportunities, inspiring new ways of doing things - chances for growth and new life. As new peoples arrived on our shores and the population of our province grew there were new communities, new parishes and new chances to live and share our faith.
We in our diocese are now in a world that has changed significantly, even in the last 10 to 20 years. We notice our changing picture as we look around and see that our parishes are graying, with many older persons and fewer young people. Parents lament that their children no longer seem to practice our faith. In addition, we are seeing fewer youth in churches, as well as a declining number of children and youth in our religious formation programs.
It’s evident that we cannot continue in the way in which we have been accustomed. Living faith is more than just attending Mass on Sundays. To live as a disciple of Jesus requires that we learn continually and that we enter into mission, sharing the Good News with others. Change is needed if we are to have thriving and active faith and life in our parishes and in the diocese as a whole. A revitalization of parish life and our own Christian life is essential. Our communities deserve more than a simple one hour on Sunday morning.
In each parish, the results of the Disciple Maker Survey taken in that community in early 2016 are being shared with the parishioners. This is intended to lead to reflection and discussion by the community at large, as well as in various groups in the parish, including pastoral councils, finance and administration councils, religious formation and other services and ministry groups in the parish.
Looking at the results of the Disciple Maker Index Survey and other diocesan resources, the challenges are obvious. The picture for each parish is reflected in the whole diocesan picture. Over the last five years, Mass attendance in the diocese has dropped by about 24%. The diocese of Saint John serves 84 churches (parishes & missions). Across the diocese the average Sunday Mass attendance at each site is 127 people.
We know that our province also has a declining demographic and an aging population. The result is that we now bury more people than we baptize. In some of our parishes this is more pronounced than in others, but the reality affects the whole diocese.
The process of revitalization and realignment on which we have embarked is aimed at bringing new life to our local Church. We will be called upon to see things differently and to respond in new ways, taking up the mission that Jesus gave to all of his disciples: share the Good News. We are challenged to become a local Church of mission, not maintenance.
Over the next months we will be given many opportunities to learn more about our mission and to become aware and involved in revitalizing our diocese. Please watch your parish bulletin, website and Facebook page for ways to be part of this journey. In addition, be sure to watch the website and Facebook page of the Diocese of Saint John for more information and opportunities for involvement.