Karla Dorweiler | Special to The Michigan Catholic
MONROE — The Amazing Parish Conference held in April couldn’t have come at a better time for Fr. Philip Ching. He had only been at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Monroe for nine months, and he was excited about the possibilities for his parish.
“I was really pleased with the information and the tools they gave us,” Fr. Ching said. “It was more than just cheering us on. They gave us practical tools — something we could really sink our teeth into.
”Fr. Ching attended the conference with parishioners and staff, including Lynn Fedewa, a member of the parish for 27 years.
“Amazing Parish was thought-provoking and invigorating,” Fedewa said. “It was good to see so many people there wanting to be part of it.
”Fedewa enjoyed talking with people from other parishes to share inspiration. Those who had already attended the conference elsewhere explained programs and ideas they had implemented, while others who were there for the first time brainstormed ideas or shared challenges.
Shortly after the conference, Fr. Ching asked Fedewa to be part of a new leadership team he was forming. Fedewa hesitated at first.
“I asked myself, ‘Do I really have the qualifications to do this?’ But prayers helped,” she said. “And we’re all parishioners, not staff members, so we have a good mix of people and experience — a lawyer, an engineer, a police officer.
”Fr. Ching wanted the leadership team to be comprised of parishioners who do not also serve on the staff. Some are former or current members of the parish council.
“It’s important to get people who are not staff members,” Fr. Ching said. “If we draw from a larger pool of individuals for feedback, it provides a different and richer perspective all around.
”The leadership team, made up of six parishioners, helps guide the broader vision of the parish, spear-heading projects and filtering them to the parish council to carry out. They consult staff for agenda items that require expertise in specific areas.
“Fr. Phil (Ching) is always asking for people’s input,” Fedewa said. “Now not only does he have his staff to help him, but he has this whole other set of people with varied backgrounds. It’s the best of both worlds.
”After the Amazing Parish Conference, the leadership team began by taking personality inventories to better understand one another’s strengths when working together. They meet at least once a month. At the parish feast day celebration in September, Fr. Ching introduced the leadership team to the parish and explained their role and plans for the future.
The immediate task for the team, he told the parish, is to identify the parish vision and mission statement. Then they will tackle projects and ideas to move the parish forward.
“We’re trying to dream big. We’re saying, ‘This is what we want, now how do we get there?’” Fr. Ching said. “We do have one main struggle: we don’t have enough space. We are land-locked here and we have no parish gathering space, which makes it challenging to have presentations or gatherings.
”The leadership team is looking into acquiring homes adjacent to the property and is pursuing a grant to make the dream possible. In addition to a gathering space, Fr. Ching puts a 24-hour adoration chapel at the top of his wish list.
“When you put Jesus first, everything else follows,” he said.
Attending the conference in April also brought about an increased focus on evangelization at St. Michael.
“We need to be reaching our parishioners and sharing the message of the Gospel,” Fr. Ching said. “We do that through programs like Alpha and rebuilding our youth group to help our parishioners develop that relationship with Christ.
”Parishioners are encouraged to pray the Angelus when the church bells ring at noon to allow the Holy Spirit’s vision at St. Michael the Archangel.
Once the St. Michael the Archangel mission is determined, Fr. Ching plans to post weekly videos on the parish website and social media with updates on the leadership team’s progress and plans to ensure all are aware and involved.