Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center)
For three years I have been a member of the Executive Committee of a parish in the Tokyo Archdiocese. In fact, I was attending early morning Sunday Masses (at 7:30 AM) and as a result I was not much aware of the realities of my own parish. However, thanks to my work there during the last three years, I was able to deepen my understanding of the various issues in my parish. At the same time, I feel that similar problems exist in many other local churches.
Let me present here the current situation of my parish and the activities we conduct. I will use fictitious names for the locality and the name of the church.

Our Parish
The parish I belong to is about one hour by train from the center of Tokyo. It is located in C City and its pastoral activities extend over to five different cities. In the words of the pastor, who has just moved to another parish, "If this parish were located in the center of Tokyo, it would probably have been divided into four separate parishes."
The church is one of the largest in the Tokyo Archdiocese and more than 2,000 people, or about 1,000 families, are scattered over its broad extent. In spite of this, it had an associate pastor for only four years. Formerly, a seminarian from the Tokyo Archdiocese and a deacon came to help in the parish, but due to the lack of seminarians this is not possible any more, and since last April there has been only one priest in the parish.

The Church Building and the Economic Situation
The church was formerly located in a residential area of F City. The faithful came by car from far away and the parking of cars on the road on Sundays became a problem. About 10 years ago the church moved to its present location and special efforts have been made to serve the local community by stressing good human relationships with our neighbors, like inviting them when bazaars are held at the church.
The cost of the land and construction expenses exceeded 300 million yen and the parish has to return the money borrowed from the Archdiocese over a period of 30 years. Nevertheless, only 60 percent of the faithful are contributing to the running costs of the parish and to the construction expenses, and these contributions decreases year by year. There have been various opinions about making special appeals or introducing a system for automatic charging, but no effective solution has yet been found.

The Parish Administrative Code
Up till now our parish, like many others, left the administration of the parish in the hands of the parish priest and the administrative committee. Of course, there was a simple code of procedures but it could not be taken as a systematic structure comprehending all the parish activities. For two years a small committee worked at preparing an "administrative code" and "detailed administrative regulations" and brought together the results. According to the "administrative code," the following committees were established: the administrative committee (dealing with daily activities), the pastoral committee (looking toward long-term pastoral activities), a financial committee (dealing with the economic life of the parish), and a secretariat with a person employed full time. A service section was also established and a system of lay people to help the parish priest was properly organized.
Next, in relation to detailed regulations, norms were meticulously designed concerning weddings and funerals, maintenance of the buildings and of files and the use of the repository for deceased parishioners. As a result, various things that had been done according to old traditions were systematized, procedures were clarified as well as who was responsible for what.
In this way, by becoming aware of the various regulations, I experienced once more how extensive the activities of the parish are, but also how outdated its organization was.

Service Activities
Under the new administrative system, the group responsible for service is the group that shoulders the daily activities of the church. At present, there are over 40 groups serving at the N church. They are divided into four main sectors according to their specific activities: The Liturgy group, the Faith-training group, the Administrative group and the Service group.
The Liturgy group handles the beginning of the Masses, the readings, the choir and the servers at weddings and funerals. They also welcome the new people coming to church and take care of foreigners. In other words, this group assists in all liturgical activities.
The Faith-training group leads the introduction seminars and bible studies, catechism and Sunday school.
The Administrative group takes care of the reception desk, the office and accounting work, maintenance of buildings and equipment. It is responsible for public relations and information services.
Finally, the Service group is the one that conducts more extensive activities. The following is just a sampling. This sector comprises groups of adults as well as senior people, takes care of visits to the sick and the elderly at home and in hospitals, runs the bookstand and the coffee shop, takes care of the parking lot, organizes the "Ichiryu-kai" (financial assistance to seminarians of the Tokyo Archdiocese), runs hand-language services for the deaf, takes care of the families of mentally disabled people, organizes the bazaars through a committee, etc. In fact, about 20 different groups belong to this sector.
Special committees administer the four main sectors and coordinate the daily activities. Moreover, twice a year the representatives of each group gather to report on their activities. The concrete problems facing the parish appear clearly in these reports.
Problems of the Local Communities
One of the main activities of the parish besides the Service sector is the so-called local block group. I mentioned above that the N parish conducts pastoral work throughout five local communities extending over a wide area Within the parish there are four local blocks with more than 20 regional divisions. The area covered by the parish is so extensive that many activities have become stagnant. There is no problem for those parishioners who are able to come to church every week, but for persons advanced in years and the sick, and for those unable to attend Mass because of their family situation, the fact that local activities have become stagnant is a serious issue. Thus, the pastoral committee has started discussions oriented toward revitalizing the local activities. But the problem is that the pastor was transferred and the assistant pastor moved to another church. On the other hand, the area is so extensive that one pastor, even with a car, cannot easily cover it. In fact, all parishioners are asked to assist in pastoral evangelization.

Decreasing Number of Children and Increasing Number of Senior People in the Parish
A common problem faced by the Service sector and the local activities is that the number of children is decreasing, while the number of people advanced in years has increased in the parish. Of course, this is true throughout society as a whole, but particularly in the Catholic Church the number of children and young people has decreased, while the number of senior persons attending Mass is increasingly conspicuous. At the same time, the number of persons advanced in years who cannot come to Mass increases year by year. On the other hand, the numbers of children in Sunday school and serving as acolytes are decreasing. For a number of years now the activities of senior high school students have come to a halt. This is not only due to the decreasing number of children and young people, but it has also to do with the fact that they are too busy and cannot come to church.
Another issue is that those working full time and bringing up their children are unable to become involved in parish activities. Members of all committees and activities are increasingly advanced in years, and even though there has been an appeal for younger people to take over, this has been impossible except for the Administrative Committee, a committee to which the pastor is able to nominate people. In many groups of the Service sector, people in their thirties and forties are so busy at work and in taking care of their children that they cannot participate in parish activities. Sometimes also their way of thinking and acting differs greatly from that of veteran parishioners, and the generation shift does not proceed smoothly.
This is just my personal opinion, but since Japanese society is becoming increasingly grayer, it's no use to force younger people to take a central role in the various groups. The veterans should remain in charge and draw the younger people along.

Pastoral Activities of Foreigners
Many foreign Christians come often to N church. Many Brazilians work in the factories of the nearby industrial belt and there are groups of Filipinos living nearby. Recently I found that some Chinese and more than 20 Vietnamese are also attending Mass in our church.
In order to meet the needs of such a multinational group, there were Masses in Portuguese once a month, but beginning last year the parish invited a Filipino priest to run Catechism classes in English. Brazilian and Filipino lay people were elected as members of the Bazaar Committee and we organized a truly international bazaar last year. Last January, the N church offered its facilities to a citizens' group for free health consultation for foreigners and many churchgoers acted as volunteers.
The fact that some Filipinos have become members of the parish administrative committee since last year was the key for opening such activities to foreigners. Foreign lay people are no longer merely "guests" but participate together as partners in the running of the parish. Their active participation not only vitalizes the parish, but the various cultural backgrounds and value systems they bring question and enrich our own faith.

The Parish Register
Our parish decided to renew the register of parishioners this spring for the first time in 10 years. Formerly, the register was renewed every year, but it had been misused once for activities not connected with the parish and its revision had been postponed up to now.
The process for revising it was by no means smooth. The main issue was to maintain privacy of information. When it comes to a list of 2000 people, one cannot disregard the danger that it will be misused. But on the other hand, to put many limits on available information can hinder important parish activities. For a full year the administrative committee discussed the issue from many angles. The conclusion was as follows: "We want to become a Christian missionary community and thus, with our decision to fulfill basic promises, let's have a register that fits our goals of evangelization." Nevertheless, the endeavor to prepare a list of over 2000 people, after 10 years, required a tremendous effort. Several months were needed to renew all the data, by asking several times after the Sunday Mass for each parishioner to confirm the old data and, when that was not possible, by mailing people still unconfirmed.
In the end, the data for about 70% was confirmed and, together with the remaining unconfirmed 30%, a register of 2000 people (1000 families) was be completed after eight months of work.
The Parish Register
The other day a luncheon was held in the parish to celebrate the completion of the register and the detailed administrative regulations. People at the party were united in feeling that drawing up the register and the regulations had helped to build up the parish community.
Certainly, the construction of the N church required great effort. But in order that the church might become alive, there was need to update the parish organization by having the register and regulations. That could not be done simply by an external systematization. During the process of the discussions about why to revise the regulations and complete the register, we were able to see clearly what kind of parish we wanted to build up. This was in fact a first step toward evangelization.
The Tokyo Archdiocese launched a system of evangelization through the cooperative groupings of three or four parishes to do pastoral work together. But in the case of our group, such cooperation for evangelization is not working. The parishes are of different sizes, and considering the differences of their history and local situation, it is not easy for the parishes to collaborate. Nevertheless, as long as parishioners maintain their enthusiasm to build up their communities themselves, I think there will be great the possibilities for cooperation.
During my three years working with the administrative committee I learned that a parish is not simply something that is given to the parishioners. It is rather a community that the parishioners must build up themselves.
=====     Copyright ®1997-2007 Jesuit Social Center All Rights Reserved     =====