BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Tim Glemkowski, the president and founder of L’Alto Catholic Institute, likes to use the example of explorers Lewis and Clark when talking about the challenges facing parishes in the 21st century.
Lewis and Clark brought canoes on their exploration, thinking that they would be mostly crossing through water. However, they encountered mountain after mountain instead – causing them to have to carry their canoes as they traveled through the mountains.
It was a well-thought plan, but the explorers were not equipped for the actual challenges to face them.
Similarly, in many parishes today, “we’ve built canoes that existed for particular purposes,” said Glemkowski in a Feb. 28 interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic.
By “canoes” he means parish life still operating under the outdated belief that Christianity – and religion itself – is an ordinary part of modern society.
But parishes aren’t so lucky anymore, said Glemkowski, who spoke on March 12 to pastors and other parish leaders gathered at the Owensboro Convention Center to kick off the Diocese of Owensboro’s third year of its “Living as Missionary Disciples” initiative, led by the Office of Evangelization and Discipleship. Following Year 1 (Encounter) and Year 2 (Accompany), Year 3’s theme is “Community.”
Glemkowski served as the keynote speaker for the event, which also included Morning Prayer and Midday Prayer as a community, table group discussion, and lunch.
Glemkowski, who himself identifies as a Millennial, told the WKC in February that Millennials have been seen as representing the first post-Christian generation. The following Generation Z is even less connected with organized religion, he said.
Across the country – including in the Diocese of Owensboro – fewer Catholic weddings take place, fewer infants are being baptized, and even fewer people are entering into full communion with the Catholic Church via the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA).
“People are discouraged,” said Glemkowski of pastors and parish leadership seeing the troubling future: a rapidly-declining Church in the United States.
But what’s worse is when “a lot of parish leaders are used to decline,” he told the WKC, adding that many parishes have simply accepted the lack of engagement and plummeting membership.
Glemkowski believes there is hope, however.
In today’s society, everywhere is mission territory, and parishes must see themselves as “outposts of a missionary Church,” he said.
“We’ve bought into the really weird lie that evangelization means big events and budgets,” said Glemkowski. While in fact, “twelve ordinary, uneducated apostles evangelized the whole world.”
He recommended that parish leaders gather “a few people around who really get it,” to form teams focused on engaging and evangelizing. And as those few, dedicated people work to spread the Good News, it should have a ripple effect in parish communities and beyond.
“Just being told there is hope and seeing the impact and growth, people’s lives have been changed,” he said. “The Gospel still has the power to change the human heart.”
Originally printed in the April 2020 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2020 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic