This last Sunday, I kicked off a four week in-parish mission at my parish of Saint Mark in Shoreline. Over the last several months I have been discerning how the Lord is directing our community. Our staff has been brainstorming ideas and our pastoral council has been discussing priorities & plans. Things came to a head a few weeks ago when we reviewed our parish finances and came to the realization that in both finances and membership, our community is facing serious challenges – challenges that include a financial difference of $170,000 in giving between 2019 and now, a decline in membership, and a low engagement from those who are still on the rolls & in the pews.
It is my firm conviction that the final piece is key; our personal investment in the community will bear fruit in all other things. Thus, a parish mission to pray over three questions:
- what does it mean to be a parish?
- what does it mean to be a parishioner?
- how is the Lord calling us to grow as both?
After preaching on all of this (a delicate dance between exhorting, warning, and animating – on Mother’s Day, no less 🙄), I had the blessing of meeting up with my priest support group this week. As I shared my own worries, frustrations, and hopes about this, they brought up a helpful counterpoint: what communities do I myself currently find life-giving, exciting, and animating?
What comes most immediately to mind is a group that I only recently discovered: Doxacon Seattle. By a happy set of circumstances and at their gracious invitation, I was privileged to present at their 2022 convention (this year’s theme was “Is This the Way? Duty and Morality”). I spent several nervous weeks preparing for the convention – it was not lost on me that the intersection of passionate Christians and passionate geeks could be a place where a misstep in theology OR fandom would be quickly jumped on!
I am happy to report that I managed to avoid any great ecumenical or geeky controversy. But what absolutely floored me was how much fun it was to gather with these folks! We spent nearly twelve glorious hours talking about everything we loved – television, movies, literature, podcasts, webcomics, history, whatever! – and ALL in the light of Christ. There were Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians joined in the conversations – and when one person was talking, several others were chatting across the Discord channels that had been set up.
It was wonderful. They have something special, in both mission & community, that is compelling, uplifting, and joyful. Not only do I still fondly recall that day, but it has sparked the beginnings of friendships for which I am already extraordinarily grateful. In fact, the night before I kicked off this parish mission, a group of us spent four hours (!) on a Zoom call talking about our faith, our various fandoms, and plans for how we might invite others to share in them. And to my great delight, a couple of my new friends showed up the next day at the vigil Mass the next day – and we spent another two hours talking after Mass!
It is one of my greatest sorrows that such community rarely, if ever, is to be found in the life of the Catholic Church. There are sometimes glimpses of lively and connected Christian community, but so very seldom to be found in a parish. I recall a classmate in seminary who said that we Catholics are sometimes referred to as “the chosen frozen” by other denominations, at least here in the United States. I wish it didn’t ring so true. And yet, I find that when I need meaningful friendships or personal support, the Catholic Church is not somewhere I can find either one.
So, what are we to do? There’s an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that has been sticking in my head: “Looking for Par’mach in All the Wrong Places“. It’s a bit of a fluff story among the heavy arcs DS9 was exploring at that point, though a well-placed bit of humor that rang true there and now: we sometimes miss what’s right in front of us for having focused so much on what we think we want.
What does that mean for me and my parish, practically speaking? I’m not entirely sure yet, but it seems to me that something of Doxacon needs to come to our community! Oh, I know that many (maybe most) of my parishioners are not sci-fi or fantasy geeks and I know that literally bringing a convention to the parish isn’t the answer. But bringing what they have – forming groups small & large centered around what excites us – seems to be a crucial part of the answer to the questions we’re pondering during our parish mission.
That’s the kind of community I know I long for! And from my experiences with Christian geeks from around the Pacific Northwest & beyond – Catholic and otherwise – I’m confident that I’m not alone. It is Christ that animates and excites us in the context of fandoms & ministry alike. If we are to be enlivened as His Body, Sunday Masses are not the end, but rather the beginning of forming truly intimate and joyful communities.
(For those interested – here is a draft version of the homily that I recorded for my staff & pastoral council to help give me input. The actual homily was edited only slightly for time…..this version is just over 25 minutes long!). Alternatively, you can download it to play on your device by clicking this link.