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Is Your Parish Like a Convenience Store?



Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 07/28/15

Are you a disciple or a customer?

How much is the typical parish like a contemporary convenience store (7-11, Sheetz, Tiger Mart, Stuckey’s, etc.)? Better said: How much is the typical parishioner (Mass on Sundays, more or less; Mass on holy days, sometimes; envelope in the basket, usually; confession—sometimes, maybe…) like the typical customer at the typical convenience store? The similarities, I believe, are many, obvious, startling and discouraging.

Most often, a customer drives to a convenience store, gets what he wants (gasoline, soda, cigarettes, etc.) and drives off as quickly as possible. That’s the whole point of a convenience store, isn’t it—to be convenient? Fill up as effortlessly as possible, and move on to what is really important.

Imagine that at a trip to the convenience store, the clerk asks you to help stock the shelves, sweep the floor, etc. What would you do? Couldn’t you easily imagine yourself sputtering and say, “That’s not my job! That’s what I pay you for!” Then imagine that the clerk asks you—no—pleads with you to help promote that particular convenience store as well as the home office of the franchise. The clerk asks that you identify yourself to all the world as a proud devotee and ardent advocate of this convenience store brand. Would it be hard for you to imagine yourself running away from that shop and its crazy clerk? Would it be hard for you to imagine yourself bringing your business to a different store or even a different franchise, one that was less demanding? After all, the convenience store is meant be a convenience for you, not the center of your life!

Now let’s look at Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary, and their 2.5 children, going to Saint Typical’s parish, pastored by Father Cheerful. What does the Ordinary family want? They expect Father Cheerful to manage Saint Typical’s efficiently—that is to say, that want the “services” (in the broadest sense of the word) to be quick, simple, undemanding, unobtrusive, in a word, they want convenience. They want to go in, get what they came for, and get out. Just like a trip to 7-11 or Minit Mart.

What if the new assistant manager, I mean, “parochial vicar,” Father Earnest, suggests that treating Saint Typical’s like a drive-through isn’t good for the parish and isn’t good for you. There’s lots of work to be done, and not enough hands to do to the work. In fact, young Father Earnest preaches regularly about how the parishoners must donate their “time, talent and treasure.” Father Earnest often laments, privately and even from the pulpit that, “the same few people do all the work around here—and that’s not fair.” (If Father Earnest is feeling desperate, he might even trot out the “God-Can’t-Be-Outdone-In-Generosity” Tactic, in the hopes of having you believe that donating to the parish is a smart investment scheme that will obligate God to do you a favor.) What is the likely response of the Ordinary family and of those like them?

Well, if what I’ve seen and heard over the years is any indication, what they will likely do is nothing. What they want, and they want it conveniently, is to get what they came for at Saint Typical’s and to get out. They have no reason and no desire to do anything other than that. If Father Earnest is persistent in his requests, to the point where Sunday mornings at the parish are feeling less convenient, the parishoners/customers are likely to complain to the pastor, Father Cheerful.
Father Cheerful may well be thought of as the branch manager of the local 7-11. He’s there to provide a service, a convenient service, and, towards that end, will do just about anything short of setting the store on fire to minimize (and, ideally, eliminate) customer complaints—up to and including getting rid of the new assistant manager, Father Earnest.

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