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Embracing Parish Life: Step 1—Choosing a Parish

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Transitioning from a worshipping community at a college or university to a worshipping community at a “regular” parish can be challenging, both for recent graduates and for those of us who have been out of school for several years. This series seeks to make parish life more accessible to Catholic young adults, because belonging to a diverse community of believers and learning to be engaged in the care of that community are incredible opportunities to encounter God’s love and grace.

Choosing a parish can be tricky. In the last year, our parish has experienced a few clergy transitions, which have, as you might imagine, affected the “feel” of the parish. Now, my husband and I are deciding whether to stick it out and reinvest in our current parish or to take a look at some other parishes in our area that are closer to our home. Like many new college graduates and transitioning young adults, we’re in the process of choosing a parish.

Here are four questions we’re considering as we decide which parish to call our home.

1. Where is the parish located?

Many of us can hop in the car or onto public transportation and be at a Catholic church in well under 30 minutes. My husband and I happen to have several parishes within a 30-minute radius of our house. Although many people don’t consider geographical parish boundaries when choosing their parish, starting close to home isn’t a bad choice, especially if you plan to live in the same area for a while.

As you begin your parish search, you might start with parishes closest to you and try out a few different Mass times at each.

2. Does the parish environment allow us to worship well?

Beauty draws the imagination toward God, and we can find beauty in many aspects of a parish—from the architecture and art to the music and worshipping community. I find that I worship best when surrounded by a familiar community in a beautiful space. Others are particularly affected by music or attracted to certain styles of architecture.

Although many of us will not find a church that fulfills all of our style preferences, it is important to consider whether the space inspires you to worship more deeply or distracts and irritates you.

3. Do we like the priests?

Let me start by stating the obvious: priests are human beings. Just like we won’t find a worship space that meets all of our preferences, we likely won’t find a priest whose homilies wow us every week.

Choosing a parish primarily for the priest might leave you disappointed in a few years if the bishop reassigns him to another parish. Still, the local shepherd can have a big impact on the parish community.

Get to know the priests. Say hi to them before and after Mass, and introduce yourself when you attend parish events. You might have preferences about how the priest celebrates Mass or gives homilies, but interacting with him outside of Mass will help you to get a better sense of his personality and the way he leads the parish.

4. Can we imagine ourselves getting involved in this parish community?

A parish is more than just a place where you spend an hour at Mass on Sundays. It’s a worshipping community, emphasis on community. Granted, not all parishes have achieved a “community” feel, and not all parishioners are interested in being deeply involved in the life of the parish. I would argue, however, that involvement in the parish community can have an incredible effect on your faith life.

For my husband and me, a big factor in choosing a parish is the potential for long-term involvement in the community. We’re at a point in our lives where we are beginning to imagine where we might raise our family and where our future children might attend school. We want to begin putting down roots in a parish community in which we can imagine being involved for many years.

Certainly, not all young adults are at the point in their lives where they are ready to consider long-term involvement, but even short-term involvement in a parish community is a worthwhile factor to consider. Can you imagine yourself stepping up to serve as a lector or volunteering to be a catechist at this parish? Are there opportunities for you to serve God and God’s Church through this community?

Parish life is a beautiful, messy thing. Take the time to find a parish community where you can worship well and where you can imagine yourself offering your gifts in service to the Church. Imperfect as your chosen parish might be, you may be surprised by the abundance of grace you find in those imperfections!

Featured Photo: St. Boniface Catholic Church (Evansville, IN) by straightedge217; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.

Katie Diltz

Katie Diltz is an assistant director of the Echo program in the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.