Reconnecting neighborhoods

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | March 22, 2017

It’s one goal of parish boundaries

Howdy, neighbor!

Today those words sound like the opening line from an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.” It seems that neighborly interaction is a thing of the past and statistics bear that out.

According to a 2015 City Observatory report, “Less In Common,” only about 20 percent of Americans reported spending time with their neighbors. A 2014 survey by Nextdoor found that while 92 percent of Americans consider themselves to be good neighbors, 56 percent say they interact very little with their neighbors.

Author and researcher Robert Putnam, in his 2000 book titled “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” said the neighborhood disconnect is one sign of the declining American community. (His book title comes from a trend of people bowling alone rather than together in leagues.)

This trend of Americans becoming isolated from one another can have an impact far beyond bowling alleys. Even church communities can suffer from this social dysfunction.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37), a “scholar of the law” asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Today, Americans would be hard pressed to answer that question.

In an effort to help parishes become missionary disciples and Good Samaritans, Bishop David Ricken announced an update of parish boundaries in the Diocese of Green Bay. (Read story here and Bishop Ricken’s column in last week’s Compass.)

Some people may cringe when they hear that term, but as Bishop Ricken explains, parish boundaries are not intended “as a means to direct people where they cannot worship or become a member.”

Instead, boundaries serve as parameters of a parish’s mission field.

“It is here in our neighborhoods that we ought to be reaching out first to offer all the people within our mission field the joy and the mercy of the Gospel, as Jesus did,” explains Bishop Ricken. Parish boundaries won’t keep people out. They will help pastors and parish ministers do what canon law requires: “assume responsibility for the care of all souls within a specified geographic area” (canon 518).

The updated boundaries will also help parishes achieve their social mission of serving the poor and vulnerable, which the U.S. bishops encouraged in their 1993 pastoral letter, “Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of the Parish.”

“We believe the church’s social mission is an essential measure of every parish community and it needs more attention and support within our parishes,” they wrote. “Our parish communities are measured by how they serve ‘the least of these’ in our parish and beyond its boundaries: the hungry, the homeless, the sick, those in prison, the stranger.”

The timing of this parish boundary update fits in perfectly with Bishop Ricken’s six-year plan for the new evangelization, “Disciples on the Way,” as well as the new diocesan vision statement announced last summer: “We are missionary disciples striving to lead all people to the Kingdom of God.”

The goal is to know our neighbors, both Catholic and non-Catholic, and be there for them in their time of need, just as the Good Samaritan.

As the diocese continues to roll out its plans for the new evangelization, it’s time we brush up on that old salutation: “Howdy, neighbor!”

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