Patrick Lencioni
Patrick Lencioni

This is the second in a series on a spiritual movement underway in the Archdiocese of Portland.

Unity emerges from vulnerability and healthy conflict.

That’s a key lesson from Catholic business thinker Patrick Lencioni, who is helping parishes nationwide reach what he calls organizational health.

As part of a renewal in the Archdiocese of Portland, Archbishop Alexander Sample has enlisted the help of Lencioni’s Denver-based Amazing Parish movement. About 20 western Oregon priests and their staffs — 70 people in all — attended an Amazing Parish conference in Kansas City in June. No other diocese sent so many participants. The plan is for more Oregon cohorts to go in the future, learning about parish teams that run on trust and honesty.

“It’s not a program,” Archbishop Sample said. “It’s a way of life.”

‘Collaborative process’

“Ultimately it’s about having a parish that is more alive,” said Father Mike Walker, pastor of St. James in McMinnville.

Father Walker has long planned to use Amazing Parish and is glad the entire archdiocese is being invited to take it up.

“We have been working in a management system that is based in the ’50s and ’60s,” said Father Walker. “A pastor can make or break a parish way too easily. There are not enough checks and balances. The management style has been for the pastor to say it, and you do it. That may have worked decades ago but doesn’t work now.”

Father Walker said the Amazing Parish plan helps staff and parishioners give important input.

“In team building, you realize the mission of the parish is a collaborative process, not just one person’s vision,” Father Walker said.

He wants his team to be strong enough to disagree with him if they see something going askew. He thinks parishioners will notice leaders working together authentically and then support a vision built of broad contributions.

Vulnerability is valuable

In western Oregon, enthusiasm for Amazing Parish starts at the top.

In his Kansas City homily, Archbishop Sample told worshippers he once considered talk of sharing woundedness as “psychobabble” but now understands his own emotional scars and the need to be vulnerable to build trust with others. During a spring retreat of priests, the archbishop was candid about struggles with his late father.

“Something happened, something broke open, something changed,” he said of his relationship with priests after that moment.

Those priests, in turn, have been more genuine with staff members. The end goal, the archbishop said, always is bringing people to Jesus.

In a closing reflection in Kansas City, Archbishop Sample told parish leaders from around the nation that the church should neither capitulate to culture nor hide from culture, but should engage culture with the power of the Gospel.

“You are part of a new age for the church,” the archbishop told listeners. “You are part of something new and incredible. Trust that.” 

Archbishop Alexander Sample gives a closing reflection to participants June 23 at the Amazing Parish conference in Kansas City. (Courtesy Amazing Parish)

Ripple effect

“I am excited by the path,” said Megan Schuver, development coordinator at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northeast Portland. She attended the Kansas City conference with her pastor, Father Matt Libra.

“The idea is to help people find Jesus in a fresh way,” Schuver said. “The archbishop has called his archdiocese to come together in this movement.”

After parish staffs form leadership teams, the new candid way of living can ripple out to people in the pews and hopefully beyond, said Schuver. One key, she explained, is to be fully present to the person in front of you.

“You work in your sphere of influence,” she said, noting that even Jesus chose a small band and went from there.

Deacon Jesus Espinoza of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Aloha said the movement offers a way to discover priorities.

“The idea is to empower the pastor to get more personal with his immediate circle of influence and invest a lot of quality time between prayer and visiting with the people closest to him,” Deacon Espinoza said. The fruits of those actions, he affirmed, will spread to others.

Evangelization revived

Amazing Parish has changed the thinking at St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass. Father Bill Holtzinger preaches more about the primary encounter with Jesus; staff talk more about the Holy Spirit and their own spiritual journeys.

“We now focus more on evangelization than catechesis,” said Father Holtzinger, who has changed office hours to Sunday-Thursday so more people can meet with parish workers. “Faith is caught not taught. Testimony is the foundation.”

After Mass, staff tend a table where they assist with needs. Prayer teams are ready after liturgy for anyone in need.

The parish evangelization team is recharged and plans to have a booth when the county fair starts up again.

Priests accepting help

A year ago, the Amazing Parish staff invited Father John Marshall, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Milwaukie, to start meeting with a dozen priests from around the nation. The pastors learned the basics of the movement and got coaching. Now they have formed their own parish leadership teams. At St. John the Baptist, the group includes staff and several parishioners. At weekly meetings, which come after Mass, Father Marshall has learned to ask for help more and admit when he does not know how to solve a problem.

In the end, he said, the movement accentuates the main mission of the church: Bring people back to God.

“We’re trying to get the whole parish involved in this,” he said.

He writes about the movement in the bulletin and refers to it in homilies. He asks parishioners to embrace the three themes of Amazing Parish: unceasing prayer, healthy teamwork and active discipleship.

Father Marshall has a specific request for people in the pew: Don’t be afraid to pray with others on the spot; that hits all three themes.

What’s most important

Matt Rudolph, executive director of Amazing Parish, said the aim is to focus on what’s most important — Jesus Christ. “This gives a priest permission to really be on fire for Jesus and for saving souls as much as he is on top of his inbox,” Rudolph said.

The Jesus-first culture likely will spread to the priest’s core team and then on to others, explained Rudolph, who thinks the Archdiocese of Portland is likely to see lasting benefit from the movement.

Amazing Parish offers tools to help pastors have meetings that get at the right questions. Rudolph said the church at times lets itself become a captive of its own programs and external actions. Under the new model, the works of charity and justice continue, but are more thoroughly and clearly guided by a desire to share the Gospel and surrender to the Holy Spirit.

Even though efficiency is not the goal, operations that take the approach get cleaner, Rudolph insisted.

“We want to be efficient parishes but we want to be efficient about the most important things,” he said. “When you really define what is most important, man you can get so much more done.”