And now, my dear people, let’s all break into small groups

Tuesday 11 November 2014 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Armistice Day

Back in the day, there were nowhere near as many parish meetings. A priest could count on one hand the number of church group meetings he had to attend in a month. Among these might be the Women’s Guild, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Sacred Heart Society, the Knights of Columbus, the altar boys, the Legion of Mary, the Catholic Youth Organization, and the Daughters of Isabella. These meetings would be divided (although not equally) between the three or four priests assigned to the parish. Some automatically belonged to the junior curate, some to the senior curate, and one or two to the pastor. Those days are gone. Now a priest’s life (like everyone else’s) is inundated with an endless stream of meetings. As to the question of whether more meetings means greater results, the jury is still out but I think not necessarily.

I’ve attended many church meetings over the years. I’ve noticed that the names and faces change, but the dynamics tend to remain the same.

A sure way to sabotage your own meeting is to fail to publish an agenda in advance. But then, what good is an agenda if you don’t follow it?

I’ve also learned that a meeting must begin on time. People naturally want to chat with their friends and neighbors. Consequently, there is always a pre-meeting — or several simultaneously. Don’t let the pre-meetings interfere with your start time.

Then there are those who are chronically late for everything. If you hang around waiting for this one or that one to show up, the group’s level of frustration will increase. Perhaps the person will never show up at all. No, begin when you say you are going to begin. An hour-long meeting is plenty long enough.

I also believe that a church meeting should have an ending time established before the meeting even begins. Otherwise you are dooming the group for an eternity (or so it will seem). Set a time to end the meeting. Be a stickler. By the way, there is also usually a “parking lot conference” after the meeting has officially ended. 

Now let’s look at some of the cast of characters you may encounter at a church meeting.

The Grenade Launcher. This is the person who will remain quiet until just before the meeting is about to end and then throw a bomb on the table. By that I mean, an unexpected and controversial subject sure to catch everyone by surprise. 

The Constant Commenter. This is the one who tries to dominate the conversation by rattling on about everything under the sun — no matter what the discussion at the table.

The Silent Type. This is the opposite of the Constant Commenter. No one (during the meeting at least) will ever know what he or she is thinking. After the meeting, his or her thoughts will fire-up the gossip network.

The Soap Boxer. This is the person who obsesses about a single topic and will introduce and reintroduce the matter at every opportunity.

My Way or the Highway People. Frank Sinatra may have done it his way, but this is the one who will stomp out if he or she doesn’t get the desired results.

The Whatever. This is the one who never seems to have an opinion on anything, one way or the other.

The Reconciler. This is the person who tries to build consensus by determining what it is that everyone at the table can live with and what not. The process takes longer than simply voting, but it works better in the long run. There are no clear winners but there are no losers either. I try to be a Reconciler.

The Jokester. This is the man or woman who, when sensing mounting tension, will introduce some levity to calm things down and get back to the business at hand. I also tend to be The Jokester. 

The Pleasers and the Chronically Displeased. These are classic. No matter what you say, The Pleaser will voice absolute agreement. For the Chronically Displeased, nothing you say is ever worthwhile. Everything you suggest is doomed to failure because “I’ve been around a long time and we’ve never done it that way and it won’t work. Period.” Neither is helpful in the long run.

He (or She) Who Doesn’t Get It and Never Will. This one is self-explanatory. 

And on it goes. What to do? One has to learn to deal with it, I suppose.

Maybe those Japanese architects are onto something by creating the presentation style called PetchaKuncha. You are allowed to show an audience 20 images to make your point (whatever it is) but you can only speak for exactly 20 seconds on each image. Thus you have about seven minutes to make your point and sit down. 

You know me, dear readers, I like to keep my thumb on the pulse of modern culture. Maybe I’ll try PetchaKuncha at the next church meeting, but maybe not.

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

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