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Amazing Parish

posted Sep 8, 2014, 2:36 AM by Pastor SPX

At the end of August I attended a three day conference in Denver titled Amazing Parish. 500 people from 150 parishes all across the U.S. came together to pray, share ideas and learn best practices.  I was encouraged and energized by the all presentations and conversations.  The organizers presented a  list of 7 traits that all exceptional parishes share: a reliance on prayer (obvious, but something that can get overlooked if a parish focuses its energy on maintaining the status quo), a real leadership team (the pastor can't run the parish by himself), a clear vision (having both a goal and a plan to make disciples), a focus on the Sunday experience (making the weekend matter has to be a parish's main goal), faith formation (parishioners at every age must be formed as students of Christ and members of the Church), small groups (this is where fellowship and discipleship happens best) and missionary zeal (an amazing parish is committed to going out to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and serve others).  I came away from this conference convinced that our parish is on the right path.  Over the past year through our Restore plan we have built a solid framework to create parish renewal.  As we celebrate the one year anniversary of Restore this Fall, I encourage you to take your next step in faith. When our members make a commitment to discipleship we truly become the amazing parish Christ calls us to be.    

Back to school!

posted Aug 25, 2014, 5:15 PM by Pastor SPX

With summer ending, it's back to school, and that means everything ramps up in the life of our parish. Not that it ever slowed down! It was an incredibly busy summer and I want to update you on all that has taken place.
As you know, Fr. Dan Carson had his left hip replaced in August and is recuperating nicely. He plans to return to us in early September. Please continue to keep him in your prayers.
In May we began advertising for some new part time positions and I am pleased to announce that all the positions have been filled with dedicated parishioners.  Jen Buter is taking over as our parish webmaster and Michelle Cochran will coordinate all our social media (facebook, twitter, etc.).  Two individuals will share duties for weekend maintenance: Joey Kaplan and Pat Springman.
In terms of worship this was an exciting summer as we began using the screens in church for the entire Mass at our 5pm Saturday vigil.  The increase in participation with responses and singing has been very dramatic and the screens very positively received. We plan to expand this to all our Masses in the Fall.  In terms of ministry, CCD has been renamed Kids Ministry and will move to Sunday mornings in the former convent starting on September 21.  Their office has also moved to the former convent. With some downsizing in the school, the parish has reclaimed the Del Colle Room which has been transformed into our SLAM room for Children's Worship. Stop in and take a look at the great space that has been created.  
Our next two parish weekends for "Christ Renews His Parish" are just a few weeks away. We had a great recruitment weekend August 23/24. I am also excited about our planning for the first Restore! event called Restore! 2014 that will take place on Saturday October 25 from 8:30am-12pm.  This will be open to all parishioners with a special invitation to those in parish ministries. Watch the bulletin and website for more details. Our Restore! plan has gotten notice from those "higher up". In August the parish staff and I hosted folks from the Office of Family Life & Pastoral Resources of the Archdiocese of Washington, asking how they can help other parishes wanting to adopt any of our renewal efforts. As I type this I am also packing for a trip to Denver for a conference called Amazing Parish.  Leaders from across the U.S. will gather on Wednesday and Thursday to share ideas on how to make our parishes even more amazing. And finally, but by no means least, I am so grateful for those who responded so generously to the Pentecost increased giving request. The pledges received make all that I shared with you possible. It's going to be an exciting Fall...I can't wait to see all that God has in store for St. Pius X Church! 

Summer School

posted Jul 23, 2014, 5:23 AM by Pastor SPX

Since starting this blog, I feel like I often begin my posts by apologizing for not posting more often. I guess that's as good a place as any to start!  It would help me to know how many folks are reading this blog. So, if you do, can you shoot me an email or simply stop me and let me know? I would appreciate it. For parishes with schools attached (like St. Pius), summer lasts exactly two months and can be equally divided from about June 18 (when teachers finish) til July 18, then from July 18 until teachers return (which this year is August 18).  So we are at the midway point. But I have to confess, this has not felt like a "normal summer"....whatever that is.  I am starting to think I will never have another one of those!  As soon as school ended our parish staff began planning for next year. We had a great two day retreat at the end of June and got a lot of work done (in addition to prayer, reflection and team building). We were hard at work creating a calendar for the coming year, mapping out our message series for the next six months, and creating ways to deepen Restore!, our parish renewal plan. One of the more exciting things to come out of our retreat was the plan for an event we are calling Restore! 2014.  This will take place on Saturday Oct. 25 from 8:30a-12pm. We are issuing a special invitation to all those currently in ministry at St. Pius, but it will be open to all members of the parish. The event will include food & fellowship, opening and closing prayer services, and sessions on Welcoming & Hospitality (Everyone is welcome, because Everyone matters), Invest & Invite (Reaching Bowie Bob & Bowie Barb) and Making Disciples (our Restore! plan offers discipleship tools for all ages). Our team met this week to begin mapping out the details, but I know it will be a great day. My goal is for everyone who attends to leave firmly committed to the goals of Restore! This summer we've also begun using our screens and computer projectors in church. On Pentecost we started using them for all our announcements before & after Mass, and two Saturdays ago began using them for the entire Mass at our 5pm vigil Mass. Response has been very positive and as the presider for these first two liturgies, I can tell you it has dramatically increased participation among the congregation. It will also help visitors, guests or those who've been away for a while to participate in the Mass. In a few weeks (as summer winds down) the staff and I will attend the two-day Global Leadership Summit (sponsored by the Willow Creek Association).  I have been attending the Summit for the past five years. It is hosted at Willow Creek Church in Illinois and is beamed by satellite to locations across the country. We attend at a church in Glen Arden (about ten minutes away).  The Summit is for church leaders and offers great insights on leadership from experts in business, government, academia and religion.  At the end of August I will be attending a conference in Denver called Amazing Parish. Catholic leaders from across the U.S. will gather to share ideas on how to renew the life of our parishes. I may have a few ideas to offer!  So, as you can see, its been an active summer; time for learning and planning so that we can continue to fulfill Christ's command to "go and make disciples". 

Meeting a saint

posted Apr 26, 2014, 3:40 PM by Pastor SPX

This weekend the Church canonized two new saints, both saints who lived in my lifetime. John XXIII became pope the year I was born. I never met him (obviously), but the changes he introduced to the Church and the world in calling the Second Vatican Council had a profound impact on my life and the life of every Catholic....every believer.
John Paul II became pope shortly after I entered college seminary. I can vividly recall the year of three popes.
Just a short time later his first visit to the U.S. was announced and would include several days in Washington. Every seminarian was assigned a role for one of the Masses scheduled. I was to be crozier bearer for his Mass with priests and religious at St. Matthew's Cathedral. I stood beside more than three feet away... after handing off the crozier to his master of ceremonies. I never met him that day. I'm sure he never even noticed me. But the front page of the next day's Washington Post had a large full color photo of the Mass and there in the background I stood. My father got copies of the picture and still shows them to anyone (and everyone). Fast forward to April 1997. I was on a three month study program at the North American College in Rome. The highlight was scheduled to be a private audience with the Holy Father. Unfortunately he ha fallen and broken his hip a few months earlier, his hip operation was botched and we were told our audience may not happen. But sure enough, with just one week to go until our program was to end we were told the meeting was on. One hundred priests gathered in a palatial hall awaiting the Holy Father's arrival. We were seated on either side of a large red carpet, rope lines holding us back. The doors opened and he entered, looking frail, bent over but walking (shuffling really) on his own. I was right against the rope line. Most of the priests were applauding, but as he got close to where I wad standing I reached out my hand which he took and gently grasped. The Holy Father had a personal photographer who accompanied him everywhere, snapping a picture just about every second. I got a print of the photo of Pope John Paul II, now Saint John Paul, holding my hand.  The frame photo sits on the bookshelf of my office and which I show to anyone (and everyone).
I suspect this weekend lots of bishops, priests, and regular folks will be sharing their own stories of meeting a saint.
Let us be inspired to imitate the holiness, dedication, and commitment to discipleship of these two great men!

In like a lion, out like a lion

posted Mar 29, 2014, 6:55 AM by Pastor SPX

I know, I know, its been six weeks since my last blog posting. I'm sorry...but its not my fault!  Lent happened, plus several snow storms threw schedules off, plus we had two parish retreats.  March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, but this Lent has been leonine (look it up) through and through. Let me first talk about our two amazing parish retreat experiences. Last Spring the parish staff and I read two books that form the basis for our Restore! plan for parish renewal: Rebuilt and Forming Intentional Disciples. It was from reading the second book that my idea of a parish retreat program for St. Pius was hatched. The book made reference to a weekend experience called "Christ Renews His Parish" that began in a parish in Cleveland Ohio in 1969 and has now been implemented in over 1300 parishes across the U.S.  The weekend uses a model that is very similar to Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, Echo and Kairos (currently used in many of our Catholic high schools).  This March our parish hosted our first two weekends of "Christ Renews His Parish", abbreviated as CRHP, though pronounced "chirp". The weekends are single sex, so 14 women from St. Pius attended CRHP #1 on March 7-9 and 14 men attended CRHP #2 March 21-23. Since this was our first time with this program, a team of parishioners from St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in Virginia Beach traveled to St. Pius to present both weekends,which were held in the convent.  All I can say is "wow"!  From my extensive experience with retreats through the years (over 150 total!) I know how powerful these experiences can be.  CRHP is all that and more. Our parishioners will be hearing more about CRHP in the months ahead. Our parishioners who attended are now preparing to present our next two weekends which will take place Sept. 13-14 for women and Sept. 27-28 for men. I am so grateful to those who said "yes" to this part of our Restore! plan. I know the effect on the life of our parish will be felt for years to come. So that's CRHP. Back in January I submitted an article to the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese describing all the changes that have taken place at St. Pius over the past year. The article was posted on line and printed this week. If you care to read it, here is a link:  Oh, and our screens and computer projectors are being installed starting on Easter Monday. So, I have no doubt that April, May, and June will be very busy months too. But the incredible dedication of parish staff and parishioners makes it all possible. God bless.

Married Love

posted Feb 15, 2014, 5:11 AM by Pastor SPX

St. Pius and the universal Church focused attention this month on couples. Here at St. Pius we had a great weekend for married couples. To coincide with World Marriage Sunday on Feb. 9 all married couples were invited to renew their vows at Mass that weekend.  This simple act was very moving.  As the one who presided over all our Masses that weekend I saw more than a few tears in the eyes of the couples and our parishioners. On Saturday night we hosted a married couples night in the rectory and were filled beyond capacity! We invited couples to bring their wedding albums to share, we had four couples share on their experience of married love, couples then spent time talking to each other and everyone enjoyed wedding cake, champagne and sparkling cider.  A great weekend all around!  On Valentine's Day Pope Francis welcomed 10,000 engaged couples to St. Peter's Square. He offered words of advice to couples on how to stay together.  You can boil his message down to three simple phrases every couple needs to say and live: Please, Thank You, and Sorry. Great advice!  Where so many relationships flounder is when those in the relationship start to take each other for granted, disrespect each other, or simply stop saying (or showing) how much they appreciate and love each other. Of course this is true for every person, and every disciple. May we never take God, our faith, or our parish for granted. May each of us strive everyday to deepen our relationship with the Lord and each other that others would see Christ in us and experience His love. And may all married couples mirror God's love to the world.

A shepherd and his "staff"

posted Feb 8, 2014, 7:56 AM by Pastor SPX

Beside every good shepherd stands his "staff".  If you've ever seen a picture of a shepherd tending his flock you know what a staff is. I'm attempting a play on words to refer to my role as pastor and how essential the parish staff is for me as shepherd and for you as a member of our flock.  I couldn't do "it" without them. Literally "it"...everything.  We have a great team at St. Pius.  I was reminded of this again this past week. Our staff (which we refer to in house as the PLT: Pastoral Leadership Team) is comprised of ten members. Our full staff meets every month for lunch and updates on how things are going in the parish and in our individual ministries.  Last summer as we began to create our Restore! plan for parish renewal, I recognized that meeting every 3-4 weeks would not move us forward in a timely manner. So a group of six of us (the SLT: Senior Leadership Team) meet every Thursday morning to pray, plan, prepare and parse how we are doing. This group has been very effective in coordinating all the aspects of our Restore! plan over the past seven months. In between the full staff meetings I meet one-on-one with individual members to discuss areas of concern or to discuss their programs. If you add all this up its a lot of meetings.  And I generally don't like meetings. Our goal is to make our meetings as effective as possible. We always have a typed agenda, we give frequent time checks during our meeting, we table items for future meetings, and we also decide that some discussions should be taken to "the parking lot", meaning it can be decided later by two folks without taking the time of everyone in the room. I have learned a great deal about myself and our parish staff through our meeting processes. I've discovered that honesty and openness is essential for a team to be effective. We had some honest discussion this past week that will lead to some tweaking of our meeting schedule.  I also know that prayer is essential in our meetings. We begin every meeting with prayer.  It keeps us grounded and focused on who is really in charge.Christ is the true shepherd, we are the flock, striving every day to do His will and build his Kingdom. So I end this posting by asking you to pray for our staff, and for me your unworthy shepherd.  May we always hear the voice of the One calling us to remain close to Him always.

Scud Missile Alert!

posted Feb 1, 2014, 12:49 PM by Pastor SPX

One of the goals of our Restore! plan for parish renewal is to move parishioners from a "consumer Catholic" mentality (I come to get, not to give) to true discipleship; one who makes Christ and faith the center of his/her life. At St. Pius we encounter consumer Catholicism in many ways, but it becomes especially noticeable when it comes to sacraments.  Folks who are not members or are former members approach us regularly requesting baptisms, weddings, funerals, sponsor forms, etc.  Funerals can be especially challenging for us on many levels.   In their book Tools for Rebuilding (the follow up to their best seller Rebuilt), Fr. White and Tom Corcoran devote a chapter to funerals, which they refer to as "the scud missiles of the parish".  Now, let me begin by saying the parish staff and I consider it a great honor to host funerals for our parishioners.  Our goal is for our funerals to be true celebrations of the lives of dedicated disciples.  And we prepare for them while continuing to do everything else that occurs in the daily life of our parish (as I write this column my associate and I just celebrated four funerals in the past five days!) We want the family to be able to show up and experience a well planned, comforting and beautiful funeral liturgy. But we regularly receive requests for funerals for non-members or those who for many years have not been members our parish or any parish.    These are the scud missiles. These calls come without warning and can reek havoc depending on how we respond.  But because of the time and effort required to give our members the best we can at a time of death, we simply cannot do this for non members. I estimate that one full day of the week is given for every funeral (consider the time meeting with family, lining up liturgical ministers, homily prep, viewing, Mass, and interment). The myth is that if a parish pulls out all the stops and does funerals for non-members that it will "bring them back to church". In my 28 years as a priest I have seen this happen only one time. I wish a funeral had this power in the life of someone who is not practicing, but it doesn't. Folks choose to not come to church for many reasons. The funeral of a loved one does not change that.  Why am I telling you this?  Partly for educational purposes, but also because you may know someone who has been told, "Sorry, we can't".  I know that no one wants to hear the word "no" when it comes to a sacrament. And a Catholic funeral is a sacrament; meant to be an expression of the committed faith life of the deceased.  Our Restore! plan aims to lead folks from a consumer mentality to true discipleship. It's a solid plan to bring people to Christ and the Kingdom. The goal of which is, ultimately, eternal life with the Lord. 

Full February

posted Jan 26, 2014, 3:59 AM by Pastor SPX

In every other parish I've been at, the time from the end of the Christmas season until the start of Lent is down time...time to coast (somewhat) before the really busy season of Lent, followed by Easter, followed by end of the school year stuff.  Many priests and pastors take extended vacations in the winter to recharge their batteries (physically, emotionally and spiritually).  This February will be different. This February there will be no coasting, no extended vacations, no lull. Here is some of what is planned for this month. After completing the contract review process of the Archdiocese, our computer projectors and screens will be installed in the church in February. The screens will initially be used just at our 5pm Mass to project the announcements before and after Mass, as well as the responses at Mass and words to songs. As we get used to them, we plan to expand their use to our other Masses.  Our resident tech guy, Pat Skerpon,photoshopped an image of what the screens will look like in our sanctuary and this is displayed in our church entrance.  So screens....finally. Our cafe, Cafe Pius, will open February 1 & 2.  We are so excited about this part of our Restore! plan. We've purchased some new tables to create different areas for folks to gather.  We're partnering with Baltimore Tea & Coffee for all our hot beverages. Pizza will be available for purchase after the 5pm and 11:30am Masses.  Our cafe teams are signed up and we can't wait to open. In February we also launch our Small Groups.  This is a key part of our Restore! plan. Small groups of 10-12 adults will meet weekly for sharing and support.  Our kickoff event will be GroupLink, on Friday Feb. 21 at 7pm in our hall.  This is where groups will be formed.
So these three new initiatives will keep our February busy....but also truly exciting and life-giving. A timeline on our Restore! bulletin board in the entrance way shows where we've come from over the past ten months and where we are headed in 2014.  It promises to be an amazing year.
If you have not already committed to getting on board with our Restore! plan, join us. There is a place for everyone with all our new ministries and programs. You can fill out a Count Me In form at church or complete it through the link on our parish website.  We need you! 

Out with the with the new.

posted Jan 4, 2014, 7:07 AM by Pastor SPX

So long 2013, hello 2014. For my first blog post of the new year I am looking back at the amazing year past and anxiously excited about 2014.  No one at St. Pius, least of all me, was prepared for the all ways God would move in 2013.
We were halfway through our parish's 50th anniversary year, celebrating so much of "what had been", but not sure where to go in the future.  Our pastoral leadership team (parish staff) decided early on that the anniversary events needed to include some future planning, (in fact, we had a committee named that!), but did not know how to go about it. In an answer to prayers, my staff heard two speakers at the Mid-Atlantic Congress for Catholic Leaders in Baltimore last March that gave us some direction.  Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, pastor and pastoral associate of Nativity Catholic Church in Timonium, Maryland, spoke about their fifteen year journey "rebuilding" their parish.
Their book, Rebuilt, had just been published. Their talk and book (which I read that weekend) excited me like little had in recent years. So much of what they experienced (consumer Catholics, uninvolved parishioners, lack of enthusiasm for worship or ministries) sounded familiar. By exploring what successful churches were doing (yes, Protestant churches), they re-energized their parish by emphasizing the weekend (irresistible worship) and challenging folks to discipleship through weekly small groups, ministry inside the parish, mission outside the parish, and personal holiness.  Their approach resulted in a parish that tripled in size.  But beyond being a mere numbers game, the approach is a return to what Church should be about: faithfulness to Christ's command to "go and make disciples".  Nativity created an approach to reach out to the de-churched of their area (folks they refer to as "Timonium Tim"). 
So could this work at St. Pius?  Our team was eager to find out. Since the conference we began meeting weekly to explore the possibilities and create a pastoral plan. This past Fall, after our anniversary year concluded, I presented the plan (which we are calling "Restore") over three weekends at all our Masses. We asked parishioners to commit to one part of our plan by filling out a "Count Me In" card and over 400 folks did. We have begun several new ministries and initiatives and more are coming (small groups staring in Lent, cafe in February, expanded children's ministries, and screens and projectors for worship). Just as I had no idea how 2013 would turn out, I am equally uncertain about 2014.  But I truly believe God is calling our parish and the Church to renewal; to reaching out beyond our doors to others. When the third largest denomination in the U.S. is non-practicing Catholics, clearly something has to change. Change is coming...has already happened. May God continue to renew us and individually and to help our parish as we "restore all things in Christ." 

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