How are we doing as a Parish?

Dear Friends in Christ:

A few weeks ago, more than 120 parish leaders gathered for a presentation on the State of the Parish.  This presentation was originally scheduled for the fall but had to be re-scheduled due to Hurricane Harvey.  As pastor, I believe it is important that the parishioners know how we are doing as a parish.  I make monthly reports to our Pastoral Council and quarterly reports to the Finance Councils.  Every fall, the parish administration publishes an Annual Report on the statistics, activities and finances of the past fiscal year (July 1-June 30).  The Annual Report  is announced in the bulletin and posted on the parish webpage each fall.  These reports assist in presenting a picture of where we stand as a parish and helps us renew and refocus on our vision and mission.  The data that is gathered is also very revealing and to some parishioners, it is also surprising.
Households.  Currently, we officially register 4880 households for our census with the archdiocese.  This is down from last year when our official registration was 5059. This census figure was taken before the floods.  As we all know, many in our area were devastated by the flooding and have had to leave their homes.  Some have temporarily relocated outside the parish and others have permanently moved.  We estimate that approximately 1000 of our families were catastrophically affected by the floods.  It is going to be a couple of years before we know the full impact of the floods on our parishioners and the consequences for our parish.  Yet, even in the midst of these traumatic events, we continue to see converts to the faith, people returning to the practice of their Catholic faith and people desiring to become part of our parish!   Finances.  Like many area families, businesses and organizations, our parish was impacted by the downturn in the energy industry.  As people lost their jobs or faced cutbacks, their ability to financially support the parish was also affected.  Because the hurricane and floods impacted our parish so greatly, this understandably means that many parish households cannot support the parish as they did previously.  Yet, even before the floods, we saw a decrease in overall giving with the majority of parishioners (75%) giving less than $25 per week ($1300 per year), and nearly 40% of parish households having no record of any financial support.  After the floods, to counteract the reduction in income, we had to slash our budget by 28% and had a major reduction in staff.  We continue to adjust our expenditures to meet changing economic realities.    Society.  Sadly, we live in an increasingly secular world where fewer people marry, have children or practice religion.  This is not an SJV problem or a Catholic problem.  It is a societal problem that we are having to face and address.  Demographics.  We are also seeing a sharp increase and change in the demographics of American society and in our local region. Nearly 1 out 4 people in Houston/Harris County were born outside of the United States.  An increasing percentage of these immigrants are not from Christian backgrounds or cultures. At the same time, our area is experiencing a change as many older, more religiously observant members die and younger families who are less likely to practice any religious faith move into the neighborhood.  With the increase in younger families in the area, we are seeing more children in our parish.  We have twice as many children 18 and under (26%) than parishioners who are 66 years and older (13%).  This trend will increase our need for nurseries, classrooms, care givers and catechists.   All of these factors impact our parish.  While these are real challenges, they are at the same time opportunities for us to evangelize and reach many more people with the Gospel.
Ministry and Pastoral Activities.  As a result of the flood and the devastation it caused, all of our activities, programs and ministries saw decreases in attendance, enrollment and participation. In the months since, there has been a gradual improvement.  While the recovery in attendance and participation has not reached pre-Harvey levels, many of our ministries and activities are showing a slow but steady increase.  Some ministries have even experienced expansion and renewal.  During this time of recovery and renewal, there are several areas of our pastoral ministry that we are studying and evaluating.  Chief among them is our Youth Formation Program with particular emphasis on Jr. High and High School programs. On the whole, after some initial major setbacks in the fall, almost all (but not every single one) of our ministries and apostolates are back up and running.  They are doing well in reaching out, spiritually enriching and providing faith formation to our parishioners.  Our works of charity through our social service ministry and other parish ministries continue to serve thousands of poor and needy people here and beyond.  The devastation brought about by the flood provided our parish with the grace-filled opportunity to be of service to thousands in our area during a critical time of need.  Current and Future Needs.  Chief among our current and future needs is a greater engagement, participation and leadership of our parishioners.  We are blessed with thousands of parishioners in ministry, but the need for more parishioners to serve in parish ministry is great.  While we need more vocations to the priesthood and religious life from our parish, we also need for more dedicated parishioners to serve in all areas of parish ministry.  Another current need is staff. We are understaffed.  We are in the process of searching for trained and qualified lay ecclesial ministers to serve our parish.  Just as there is a shortage of priestly and religious vocations in the Church, there is a growing shortage of lay ecclesial ministers.  There is a need for the young people of our parish to serve the Church as lay professionals.  Just as our society needs qualified engineers, doctors, educators, attorneys and artists, we need qualified, trained and dedicated lay minsters to serve the Church.  On a more temporal plane, we eventually will need to revisit the master plan of 2007.  The classroom buildings are still in good shape but they are now 50 years old.  Scheduling has been improved immensely and modifications to our buildings have been made. These efforts have allowed us to greatly increase the number of people we can serve with our existing facilities.  Space however remains an issue and is insufficient at some key times.  For the parish to continue to grow, have more activities and greater outreach, space needs must be considered.
Conclusions.  While it is difficult to make final judgements on every specific aspect of the parish and our ministries, there are some conclusions we can make.  The state of our parish is blessed!  St. John Vianney Parish, while facing serious challenges, continues to reach out to our parishioners and others with the message and love of Jesus Christ.  We continue to be an inviting, vibrant, caring and faith-filled community rooted in our Catholic faith and tradition.  Our parish is blessed with thousands of active, energetic and joyful people of all ages who love God, love their Catholic Faith and love this parish!   Because of the dedication and sacrifices of so many of our parishioners, we continue to meet our financial obligations and serve the poor and needy in a most generous fashion. While we will always have challenges to face, struggles to overcome and needs to meet, ‘we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us.’ Phil 4:13
Thanksgiving.  Like St. Paul, I can wholeheartedly say “I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you!” Phil 1:3,4.

In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately

For more information I invite you to review the Annual Report.