A Church on the Move – a book review

For many people the Catholic Church is something that they left behind, like a most beloved possession, cast aside when it had worn down or lost its usefulness. It perhaps became moribund, inflexible, or just more burden or gift. There are many who left, there are many who stayed, there are many who join, yet we are not there yet. Pope Francis has been a tremendous source of inspiration, but as with any organization, what happens at the top is not always in sync with those in the trenches – even if that is the desire from both ends!

Church-on-the-Move-540bGot some ideas about how to change that? If you don’t – or even if you do, prolific Catholic author Joe Paprocki has some and they are worth sharing! He offers us his vision in “A Church on the Move, 52 Ways to Get Mission and Mercy in Motion.” (176 pp, $15.95)

If you have ever read any of Joe’s books you will know that he has considerable gifts as an author, and that he writes in a manner that is both accessible and compelling. This book is no exception to that, and in fact, it takes his style up more than a few notches if you ask me.

This book communicates the author’s belief that we are going to be just fine – but that we must act. Beginning with his introduction, Paprocki points out that an essential element for enlivening the church at the parish level is the parish itself. Straightaway we have to remember the we don’t just go to church, belong to church, but we are indeed church ourselves. Forget having the greatest pastor, focus on the Body of Christ that is present and go from there. With that, we set out to follow 52 chapters, 52 ways to transform the American church parish by parish. These are not polite suggestions, they are essential to the life of the church!

If you feel daunted by a 52 chapter book, worry not. Each chapter is broken down into practical and actionable strategies for parishes, all standing on a foundation of ways that Pope Francis has impacted the church. Maybe we can’t do them all, but let’s see what we can put in motion!

With no time to waste, we begin with a first chapter that may hit some of us like a bucket of ice water tossed while we were dozing off. We need an intervention, and luckily the intervention is among us – Jesus Christ. Grace is there to transform us, but when we are transformed we have to get moving!

The book is beautifully organized into sections, each consisting of chapters focused on that area. From thinking to functioning to worshiping, to forming disciples, and then to engage the world. If we are not starting at the beginning, we are unlikely to get to the goal of that transformative engagement, and that is what is so desperately needed today.

If you are looking for high-minded theology, forget it. If you are looking for orthodox canonical advice, look elsewhere. If you are looking for reasons to rebel against existing structures, you will not find that. What you will find are many exciting ways that can be explored in community, in order to bring forth change. Written in passionate, but plainspoken terms, this book is a blueprint for real change. Lent is a great time to explore real change, because that is the “reason for this season,” isn’t it? That is why this book makes an excellent Lenten companion, not just for one person, but also for the parish.

If I were a bishop, I might buy this book in bulk and share it with every pastor and pastoral leader in my diocese. If I were a pastor or a pastoral leader, I would buy this book in bulk and share it with my parish. It should be read at every level and then acted upon. I can see this being used by deaneries, parish clusters, and at the individual parish level.

One of the toughest parts of Lent is that we are asked to face things that are not working in our lives and to let go of something, so that we might be transformed from death into life. We do this year after year. “A Church on the Move” is a great book to do that at a more communal level. Whether you are a pastor or a quiet church mouse sitting anonymously in your pew, please read this one, you won’t regret it. You may not always like it, but I don’t think you will regret it.

“Now is the acceptable time,” so let’s get going. After all, if it is indeed “A Church on the Move” then we better get in motion. Instructions are included, but motivation comes from the Spirit and our cooperation. We are a pilgrim people, so let us be a church on the move. Are we ready? Let’s go!

(Continued tomorrow with part 2, a Q& with author Joe Paprocki)