Can you hear me now?

Friday 23 March 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — OK Day* 

I went to have my hearing tested. I suspected I was missing some of what people were saying to me in ordinary daily conversation. After the hearing test results were in, I met with the audiologist. “Your hearing is normal,” he diagnosed, “for someone your age.” Someone my age? Really?

It was later explained to me that it wasn’t so much my ability to hear as it was the amount of words to which my ears were being exposed. There were so many words being sent in my general direction that it was difficult to take them all in. It was about listening, not about hearing. That sounded so much better than saying I had aging ears. 

It’s important for Church leaders to have well-developed listening skills. People often have something constructive to say, if we are willing to listen. There are a lot of good ideas out there. I know this from personal experience. 

In one parish in which I served, a parishioner came up with an idea to hold an annual parish festival to help raise much-needed funds. It sounded like a fine idea. Parishioners worked together on the event over the course of several years. The festival grew bigger and bigger. The parish debt was paid off sooner rather than later. 

Ideas can also be quite simple. For example, one elderly parishioner (a lector) mentioned she was concerned about falling while climbing the two steps into the Sanctuary. “How about a handrail?” she suggested. Good idea! Two handrails were in place within the week. I sometimes use the handrail myself. (Seems the rest of me is aging along with my ears). 

Here in the Diocese of Fall River, there’s a whole lot of listening going on. Listening is a crucial part of all phases of the “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope” initiative. First, using a variety of methods,  parish needs and resources were assessed. This led to a clearer understanding of the various communities that together comprise the Diocese of Fall River. Now it’s all about the diocese itself.

An important component of understanding the Diocesan Church is a series of seven “listening sessions” being held, at the request of the bishop, in all regions of the diocese. Two sessions have already taken place. Five more forums are scheduled for the month of April. These gatherings are on a scale unprecedented in the history of the diocese. All 288,000 diocesan Catholics are invited to participate.

The topic, as I understand it, is “How can diocesan organizations better serve the needs of the people of Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod, and the Islands?” Times are changing. Recent studies have indicated several areas of ministry and outreach are in need of improvement. The questions now are, firstly, is the information correct and, if so, what can be done about it? How can the diocese reinvent itself to better meet those identified needs?

This is an invitation to share your ideas. It’s open mic night with the bishop. The purpose of a diocese is to serve its parishes, not the other way around. The diocese is in listening mode. 

Listening sessions are a valuable resource for enhanced communication. They can help to identify and solve problems. These sessions give people of diverse backgrounds from different areas of the diocese a chance to offer input. Listening sessions are a major step in understanding our Diocesan Community’s needs and resources.  

But listening sessions by themselves won’t solve a blessed thing. Solutions will involve people throughout the diocese rolling up their sleeves and working together at the task. 

Remember that old story of “Whose Job Is It, Anyway?”

There was an important job to be done. Four people got together to tackle the task. One was named Everybody, one named Somebody, one named Nobody, and the fourth was named Anybody. Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

This can happen in any organization, including the Church. If no one takes responsibility, nothing gets accomplished. In the Roman Catholic tradition, of course, the bishop is ultimately responsible, but he does not act unilaterally in such important matters. Thus, the bishop is hosting listening sessions. 

Meanwhile, dear readers, here in the Town of Falmouth we are continuing to move “from maintenance to mission.” The pastors of all three parishes are appointing a Parish Planning Committee in each of their respective parishes. Those three Parish Planning Committees will be joining together to strategize the future growth of the Catholic presence in all of Falmouth. 

On the diocesan and parish levels, we’re all ears. 

*NOTE: “OK” first appeared on this day in 1839.  It was based on a tongue-in-cheek misspelling of “All Correct” as “Oll Korrect,” abbreviated as “s,” in The Boston Morning Post.  

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.


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