St. Christopher Parish in North Chili continues renewal efforts - Catholic Courier
The outside of a church building.

St. Christopher Church in North Chili. (Courier file photo)

St. Christopher Parish in North Chili continues renewal efforts

NORTH CHILI — Several dozen parishioners attended the day retreat “Waiting for Jesus — From Darkness into Light” offered by St. Christopher Parish Dec. 3.

Although the retreat focused on Advent, its darkness-into-light theme also could describe the parish’s experiences throughout 2023.

Facing possible closure just a year ago, St. Christopher is now in the midst of a far-reaching renewal effort, targeting such key concerns as parishioner involvement and financial health.

“We’re very encouraged. I can’t say enough about how everybody has gotten involved,” said Georgeanne Hogan, who serves along with Mary Kay Doyle as St. Christopher’s lay trustees and spokespeople.

Bishop Matano’s letter prompted action by North Chili parish

The need for action had been conveyed in a Nov. 9, 2022, letter to the parish from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, who expressed concerns about “declining attendance at Mass and participation in the Church’s sacramental life, as well as the financial resources available to sustain a vibrant faith, alive and strong.”

The bishop’s letter noted that St. Christopher was projected to become insolvent by the spring of 2023; that average weekend Mass attendance had fallen by 72 percent compared to 10 years earlier; and that the number of faith-formation students similarly had dropped by 75 percent.

“I appreciate that these areas of concern have been further exacerbated by the (coronavirus) pandemic, but this has only amplified a decline that has been in process for several years,” Bishop Matano noted in the letter.

In response, St. Christopher conducted open meetings and convened a 13-member task force to address the bishop’s concerns.

That group identified five focus areas for stabilizing short- and long-term parish viability: financial planning and recovery; fundraising; spiritual healing/the Eucharistic Revival; community building and evangelization; and communication planning and implementation.

St. Christopher Parish launches several successful initiatives

Hogan and Doyle said many parish initiatives were launched in 2023 and have enjoyed strong participation. With respect to fundraising, for example, St. Christopher has garnered funds from two arts-and-crafts sales; a “Best in Show” dog show; and a recently launched campaign through which memorial bricks outside the church can be purchased for $100 each.

Spiritual and social activities for 2023 included special acknowledgements of Epiphany and Pentecost; a fall parish picnic; a ministry fair; and a daily prayer chain. Doyle noted that the Dec. 3 Advent retreat, which she chaired, attracted parishioners of all ages.

In the area of outreach, St. Christopher is striving to deepen connections with Catholic students at nearby Roberts Wesleyan College. Ongoing ministries include Eucharia, in which parishioners produce knitted and crocheted goods for donation; and a greeting-card ministry for people who are sick, shut-in, having surgery or experiencing other difficulties. A number of volunteers also have stepped up to serve as the parish’s maintenance team, reducing expenses by eliminating the need for a paid position.

Hogan and Doyle said these initiatives are part of an overall strengthening of the parish’s viability. As of December 2023, weekly collections and donations to the Catholic Ministries Appeal were ahead of levels at the same point a year earlier, they said, and gross revenue had increased by 20 percent.

In addition, they noted that St. Christopher is experiencing increased participation in Masses, faith formation and sacramental preparation.

“We’re seeing lots of new faces,” Hogan said.

“If you build it, they will come,” Doyle remarked, borrowing a quote from the movie “Field of Dreams.“ “And if people come, your finances come.”

North Chili parishioners strive to maintain momentum

Hogan and Doyle gave a presentation about the parish’s progress to Bishop Matano and the diocesan Presbyteral Council Nov. 21 at the diocesan Pastoral Center in Gates. They were accompanied by Father Malachy Nwosu, St. Christopher’s parochial administrator. Hogan said the bishop expressed pleasure with the positive results while cautioning that efforts must be ongoing in order to avert another crisis.

Going forward, Hogan said her 948-family parish plans to increase collaboration with other parishes in western Monroe County, and to keep in better touch with parishioners by updating records and increasing social-media activity.

She and Doyle asserted that St. Christopher’s turnaround serves as a positive example of how laypeople can take ownership of their parish’s future.

“We’ve got momentum,” Hogan said. “Our spirit’s alive here, it really is. I pray that it continues, because it feels good.”

Tags: Monroe County West
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