FARMINGTON HILLS — Fr. Jeffrey Day, pastor of St. Fabian Parish in Farmington Hills, likes to think of the recent change at his church as more than just a new direction — it’s a complete “relaunch.”
After he and four others from the parish attended the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Amazing Parish Conference in April, he formed a leadership team and got to work shaping his own “amazing parish.”
One of the seven traits of a vibrant parish presented at the conference was “a clear vision and plan,” so St. Fabian’s leadership team started there.
“Between what we’re trying to do in the archdiocese and what Pope Francis has been saying, what became clear is that we are to become joyful missionary disciples. Those are the three words we’ve been giving to people,” Fr. Day said.
Fr. Day sees the goal of joyful missionary disciples as twofold: that each parishioner works personally on his or her own discipleship, and that the parish as a whole actively strives to “go make disciples” as commissioned by Jesus.
“We have a choice,” Fr. Day said.
“We can keep doing things the same way or we can grow. And to grow, we have to get back to the original mission of Jesus. There’s really no other path.”
The team developed a three-year plan, and each church year, the parish will focus on a specific theme, starting with “encounter” and continuing with “grow” and “witness.”
Retooling the Mass times at the parish was the first step toward the new vision. Instead of four Sunday Masses 90 minutes apart, St. Fabian now offers three Masses at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon, which allows for more of a focus on fellowship. After each Mass, food and refreshments are served in the gathering area adjacent to the sanctuary.
Celia St. Charles, pastoral associate at St. Fabian who serves on the leadership team, has already noticed the positive impact.
“Mass is obviously the most important part of church, but there’s more to it than that. There’s also community,” St. Charles said. “If people know each other, it becomes more like home, and our goal is to have everybody feel like this truly is their faith home.”
St. Charles sees fellowship as the first step toward discipleship.
“If we can get everyone comfortable talking with each other, and then comfortable talking about their faith, it won’t be so difficult for them to take that outside the walls of St. Fabian and start talking about their faith to other people, too,” she said.
One weekend in July, all Sunday Mass attendees wore nametags.
“How hospitable can we be if we don’t even know the name of the person sitting next to us?” Fr. Day said. “It’s through our hospitality that we encounter Jesus and grow community.”
Part of the vision is to grow in discipleship by growing in faith together. In the near future, 10-minute catechetical sessions will be offered after Masses. In September, Fr. Day will begin preaching in series to delve more deeply into topics such as “encountering Jesus through prayer.”
Drawing from the book Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making the Church Matter by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Fr. Day will task parishioners to reach out to a neighbor, friend, family member or co-worker. He calls this anonymous person “Farmington Hills Frank.”
“Their mission is to be where Frank is,” Fr. Day said. “That’s a big change in our Catholic understanding of what church is. I think most parishes would like to say, ‘We’re welcoming,’ but that simply means to be happy and smile at whoever walks by. But we need to go beyond that and be inviting. We have to invite Farmington Hills Frank to come here.”
Fr. Day’s goal at the end of three years is for the parish to be “a disciple-making machine.”
He and the leadership team will keep the joyful missionary discipleship vision top-of-mind with ongoing programs and prayer. Even though they don’t have every detail on paper, they’re confident the Holy Spirit will “fill in the blanks” as the years unfold.
St. Charles believes St. Fabian has already changed since June.
“We were very settled before — very set in our ways — and now we’re just alive,” St. Charles said. “The vibe here is amazing. You can feel it on Sundays. There’s an excitement that hasn’t been here before.”
Amazing Parish series
This story is the first in a series about how parishes have changed their approach to ministry after attending the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Amazing Parish Conference in April. For others in the series, visit www.themichigancatholic.com/features/unleashthegospel.