Sunday, July 30, 2006


By Kathi Scarpace
A couple of summers ago, I was wandering around the internet looking for good ideas from other parishes that I could adapt to my parish. One parish had a book club. I thought, what a great idea.
So in my simple self, I typed Catholic Book Club in the window on Google, and up popped This site was a goldmine. It has numerous ideas for creating a book club in a parish. They made it sound so easy that I decided to try it.

We are into our second full year. The first year we read books from those listed on the above website. There are several years of book selections from which to choose. It was fun to pick among the many titles. We tried to find books that were both topical and interesting to everyone in the group. For example, we read Conclave by John Allen just a few months before the conclave that elected Benedict XVI.

Now that we are in our second year we have moved a little away from the list used at the America site. We determined that we want to alternate fiction with non-fiction.

We do not always choose Catholic writers. Instead we choose books that will help us grow in faith and provide a good discussion. We read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini in January this year, as well as Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints by Elizabeth Johnson in March and April.

In terms of organizing, it is very simple. We meet once a month, for hour and a half to two hours. The first year we selected the books at the book club meeting. At the end of the first year, we decided to select books for a year. This worked well. Everyone brought reviews and books to a potluck meeting in July and then lobbied for their inclusion on the list. As we worked through the list during the year, we made changes as we went along.

This year we kept the same format and met again this July to lobby for the upcoming year’s list. This year highlight may be the reading of Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino by Joyce Rupp. One of our book club members is planning to walk the pilgrimage route in Spain next year.

The books provide a context to share our faith and our lives. We laugh sometimes until we cry, share our doubts and questions, and in general have a good time.

A book club might be something that your parish would like.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

GUARDING UNITY by Kathi Scarpace

Sometimes pastoral minister involves working with people who are overzealous. People with the best of intentions can limit or scare away volunteers. A ministry schedule, the way a ministry is done, or who is providing the ministry, can become the source of conflict and even hostility.

This is real life in the parish. At times good-intentioned people can actually harm or disrupt the community.

The unity of the parish is so important. My experience has taught me to listen and to try to honor everyone involved in ministry. I try to recognize the good heart of the people who are being controlling. I also try to be welcoming to everyone who wants to be involved in ministry. It is a delicate balance.

It means taking the sacraments, the liturgy, and the service to the poor seriously and ensuring that it is done as well as possible. It also means not taking it so seriously that only a few people are “ good enough.”

I keep in mind that we are all unworthy servants. Keeping the unity of the parish as the goal helps to guide me through the minefield of feelings, expectations and misunderstandings that can arise between people.

Unity of mind and heart is part of Paul’s message to his beloved Philippians: “ …complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking of one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory; rather humbly regard others as more important that yourselves….” (Phil 2:2–3).

Paul’s words present the ideal. Unity and love are signs that the community is living in the Spirit.

As parish leaders, safeguarding unity is a challenging task. It means loving difficult people in trying situations. It means stepping aside at times. It means delicately suggesting alternative ways of viewing a situation. It means constantly checking my attitude and motives in my work.

Am I building or disrupting community life? When is the right time to say something to someone? Who needs to be encouraged? Who needs a word of caution?

Lord, I am not worthy is my constant prayer.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

PINGING PRAYER by Kathi Scarpace

I learned a new word today. Someone emailed me and wrote that she had pinged her sister for some information.

Pinging means to communicate with another person by phone, email, text messaging, etc. Rather than name the actual medium, pinging includes the many different choices we have in communicating.

I have been pinging prayer since Lent. And I've found two wonderful prayer sites available online.

The first site, is a slow-paced series of pages that uses Ignatian spirituality to engage the reader in a reflection process. This visual prayer site created and maintained by the Irish Jesuits. The prayer offers commentary and reflection questions to move you ever-deeper into your experience of God.

The site is self-paced; you can linger as long as you like on any one page. After initial commentary, the prayer begins with an invitation to come into God’s presence. Next you are given the opportunity to move deeper into your heart. As the prayer site continues, you are to imagine yourself with God and to share your feelings with God at that moment. You continue and read the scripture reading for the day. After you reflect, you move to a page that asks you consider how the biblical passage has touched you or perhaps left you cold.

The next page directs you to speak to Jesus about your feelings. The prayer concludes with the Glory Be. You can go backward or forward as you like, and if you find yourself unable to connect with a particular page or biblical passage, there is a prayer guide.

The comments and the various pages differ each time you log on, but the intro, scripture and closing remain the same. You can print a version of this prayer, as well as download it to a PDA. The site is available in 21 languages, including Chinese, Latvian, and Spanish.I used this site frequently for Lent.

While exploring, I found a link to another site that has become my favorite: This site is maintained by the Jesuits of Great Britain.

“Lasting between ten and twelve minutes, it combines music, scripture and some questions for reflection. The aim is to help you to become more aware of God's presence in your life, listen to and reflect on God's word, grow in your relationship with God. Pray-as-you-go can be downloaded free from this website in either MP3 or WMA (Windows Media Audio) format. You can download one day at a time, or one week at a time. You need to have a broadband connection as the files are quite large (the MP3s are about 8MB and the WMAs about 5MB).”

The prayer begins with a bell, followed by a beautiful hymn or chant. The music comes from all over the world. I particularly enjoy the selections from the monks of Senegal. Reflection questions introduce and follow the reading the scripture passage.

The prayer is based on the work week, Monday through Friday. Within the ten to twelve minutes of viewing listening, I find myself calmed, refreshed, and renewed.

It is a treasure I have shared with many in my parish. One family downloads the prayer on a CD and prays with it at bedtime. It would be a lovely way to prepare for sleep.

The site also includes other resources and links, including a daily examination of conscience.

Consider pinging prayer.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

MANY MOUTHS TO FEED by Kathi Scarpace

This month my parish went from about two thousand families to just over four thousand families. If each family has only two people, my parish is now eight thousand people. The parish is undoubtedly larger than that, but just considering eight thousand people is staggering. The town I lived in four years ago is less than half the size of my parish.

The parish landscape is changing.

My parish grew because of many things: a shortage of priests, a decision to celebrate Sunday Mass rather than offer communion services, as well as an influx of new housing and new families. The parish will soon build a large worship space with a seating capacity of over two thousand persons.

The shift to this larger parish community has me thinking about ministry. I minister to the sick and elderly as a lay pastoral minister. One of the most satisfying moments of my pastoral ministry in the past four years grew out of contact I had with a parishioner.

Once a week for a couple of years, I brought Joan communion. She and I laughed, told stories to each other, and shared our faith. She had a twinkle in her 94-year-old eyes, and she gave me either a recipe or a card or cookies nearly every week.

When she died, her family contacted me to lead the rosary the night before her funeral. The rosary I prayed was a reflection of her life’s story woven into the glorious mysteries. (A friend had given me an outline to use.) Because I knew Joan and some of her family stories, I could connect Joan’s life with Christ’s in a simple way. This rosary service was very rich and satisfying, both to me and to Joan’s family. The connection between faith and life was almost effortless, in part, because I had become Joan’s friend.

In large parishes, priests today celebrate funerals, weddings, and baptisms without really knowing the families at the liturgy. With the trend moving to larger and larger parishes, priests will know proportionally fewer and fewer people that they pastor.

One danger of a very large parish is that priests will become functionaries, not by choice, but by circumstance. How can the human dimension of the sacramental life be honored in mega-parishes?

I do not have the answer. I know that the challenge is great for both priests and parishioners.

Will a small faith community become the “parish within the parish” and provide a human face to parish life? Will sacramental preparation become a community-building opportunity? What events will bring people together? How will the priest experience for himself the human side of parish life?

Everyone needs community, from the child being baptized to the pastor presiding at a Mass of two thousand people. What will help nourish the many people who come to the table of the Lord?

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)


Parishes offer everyone a place at the table of the Lord. People come to this table with different needs And hopes. Some people have shared at the table for years, and others are newcomers.

No matter who comes, it is our task as ministers to offer hospitality. In this and subsequent blogs, I will offer ideas and reflections based on my experience of everyday ministry in a parish.

The recent scrapbook craze has many people creating memory books of family vacations and school years. Baby pictures, those once-in-a-lifetime soccer goals, and the goofy costumes from Halloween can now be preserved and celebrated ¾ all with acid-free paper. Digital cameras, computer files, websites, and scanning equipment preserve what is most important to us electronically.

What happens to the special moments of parish history? Certainly the parish preserves the sacramental records, but what of everything else? I had occasion to find out this past week when I created a display of historic memorabilia.

The first thing that struck me as I looked through the newspaper articles, group photos of parishioners on various building committees, and old parish handbooks is that as a parish, we stand on the holy shoulders of the people of faith who preceded us. The parishioners of 2006 form just one link in a long chain of faithfulness.

For our parish, the chain extends back through time for over one hundred years.

I was overcome by gratitude for the faithfulness of this faith family.The second thing that struck me in looking through the historical records is how fragile and how disorganized these important documents are.

Tucked into a corner of a basement closet, our photos and newspaper articles and memories could be lost or destroyed so easily. The dapper photo of the founding pastor, records of building projects, the lists of former pastors, and a host of other irreplaceable fragments of another time are, for the most part, stacked in boxes. (One person did make a very good filing box for some of the documents, but there are several boxes untouched.)

It is a little formidable to think about how to organize and preserve the best of the items. A centennial, or in our case, the closing of our parish, make these items important, but day-to-day, the history remains boxed in its cardboard tomb.

What needs to be preserved? What can be scanned onto the computer for a visual record? Whose job is it to care for these things?

Big institutions like libraries, universities, and dioceses have archivists, people whose job it is to categorize and care for the past. Parishioners generally do not have such an official person, but many parishes have people interested in history and its preservation.

Perhaps the history ministry could become a part of parish life. Perhaps the diocesan archivist can offer some help, or your local library or historical society.

The links here to parish historical archives online may give you some ideas:,,

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)