I am a nerd.
As spring approaches summer, even though I have been out of school for years, I begin assembling a stack of books that will be my summer reading that year. This year, I read everything from the pope's writings on the Church fathers to Henry Kissinger's On China.
As August rolled around, I found in my mailbox at the Catholic Center a book given to us all by our director of Evagelization. It is entitled From Maintenance to Mission: Evangelization and the Revitalization of the Parish, by Fr. Robert Rivers, a Paulist (our Evangelization czar is also a Paulist). I headed to Seattle and Vancouver on vacation with my family with this book, among others. I read this book with the critical eye of a vocations director - wondering in the author would mention vocations and the role of evangelization in fostering them. I found a little reference, here and there, but not much. However, that was not the point of the book. It was to encourage us as a Church to look at how we "run" parishes and how we are focused (or not focused) on the true goal of the parish, and the Church in general. The mission of the Church is to evangelize - that is, to preach the Gospel and to share its life-giving light with others. When all we are worried about is Mass attendance, collections, capital campaigns and numbers, that mission becomes blurred, if not completely obscured.
In the midst of the vacation, I picked up another book (nerd, remember?). We happened to be staying right around the corner from the original Starbucks Coffee Company store, at Pike Place Market. One evening, I noticed a book that was being touted on their shelf, next to bags of dark roasts and designer teddy bears. It was Howard Schultz's book Onward. Schultz was and is again the CEO of Starbucks, and the book is about how he saw the company straying from its roots and how he wanted desperately to bring it back to its central purpose and greatness. While Starbucks as a company had been growing exponentially (in Vancouver there were, literally, four stores at one intersection), the focus on the original intention of the founder, Schultz, was being lost. He writes of walking into a store and smelling the burnt cheese of one of their "breakfast sandwiches." That had to change, he felt, or else the company's soul was lost.
Here in the Church, we could do well to learn from Starbucks. While I never like comparing Church practice to business, the motive here can be transferred. What is the reason we do all this in the first place? It is certainly not to gather a bunch of people around so that we as organizers can feel important. For Starbucks, the original focus was the coffee and the customer. For us, it must be the Gospel and those who hear it. Yes, we want as many as possible to do it, but we cannot allow a desire for growth to impede the all-important personal encounter with Christ that is at the heart of our faith - both collectively and individually.
As a parish, we must ask ourselves if we are truly facilitating that encounter or not. When a new person says they just moved into the area and would like to know more, the correct response is not, "Welcome packets are in the vestibule."
That's just a start. It took a lot of risk and a lot of work for Starbucks to readjust its attitude and refocus on the customer, the coffee and the experience. It will take us a lot of work too. But it is definitely worth the effort.
So grab a cup. The coffee's on me!