MACOMB — Advent is a special time for parishes around the Archdiocese of Detroit, but for St. Isidore Parish in Macomb, this year’s Advent proved to be the most meaningful yet, with an Advent series called “Finding Hope in the Light,” with contemporary music, prayer and inspirational speakers.
More than 200 people attended the first evening. The program was part of a new approach for the parish that has been in the works for more than a year.
St. Isidore’s pastor, Fr. Ron Victor, and his staff had been discussing plans to revitalize their parish just as the Archdiocese of Detroit was gearing up to host its Amazing Parish Conference in April 2016. Fr. Victor and three of his parishioners decided to attend, and it was just the spark they needed to launch a new way forward.
“The one thing that affected us the most was the message to have a clear vision,” Fr. Victor said. “I always thought we should try to be everything to everyone, but Amazing Parish made us rethink that.”
A newly formed leadership team, made up of parishioners who do not serve on the staff, identified three “pillars” for St. Isidore: connect with God, reach others and build community.
“It’s not really a mission statement as much as a commitment to say that everything we do will fall under one or more of the pillars,” Fr. Victor said.
Part of the parish’s new path included a shift in the music program from traditional to a mix of traditional and contemporary. Also included was a complete overhaul of the parish website and an emphasis on social media.
“We changed the look of the website, but more than that, we focused on the content,” said Matt Kush, a parish staff member who works on music, design and Web development. “We want people to keep coming back to our site for inspiration and then share it with others.”
Kush led the effort to organize the Advent series after four of the parish’s teens returned from a youth music ministry conference in St. Paul, Minn., in July.
“They were really excited to apply what they learned in our parish, but some of the ideas didn’t necessarily fit with worship at Mass, so we thought ahead to Advent,” Kush said. “The world can feel pretty dark at times, but how is God working through it all, and how can we put a program together to help all of us see light in the darkness?”
Kush developed three evenings in December as part of the series, all keeping with the theme of “Finding Hope in the Light” and ending with food and fellowship. Each night featured a speaker and contemporary music with large screens for images and song lyrics. Taize prayer was the focus of the first night and was led by the teen musicians.
To promote the Advent series, Kush produced a promotional video for the website and advertised heavily in the bulletin, on the website and on social media. The approach worked, drawing 200 guests the first night and a larger crowd each week as word spread.
Joyce Jamula, who has been a member of St. Isidore for almost 25 years and sings in the choir, attended all three Advent evenings.
“It was great to step back from the busy time of preparing for Christmas and instead prepare our hearts and minds for what it’s truly about,” Jamula said.
Jamula is happy with the new direction of the parish.
“I’m really excited for all of us. Our bulletin is so full each week and there’s always something going on,” she said. “I like being part of the choir as we try new things, and I just can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.”
Since a redirection in September, Fr. Victor has noticed an increase in attendance at events in the parish. At an annual Christmas event geared toward families with young children, registration tripled from previous years.
“The Amazing Parish Conference made me feel very encouraged in my work as a pastor and gave me a renewed passion for ministry,” Fr. Victor said. “Now we’re focusing on helping people have experiences here outside of Mass.”
Amazing Parish series
This story is the seventh in a series about how parishes have changed their approach to ministry after attending the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Amazing Parish Conference in April 2016. For others in the series, visit www.themichigancatholic.com/unleashthegospel.