NES 2019 – Renewal is possible if evangelization takes priority over maintenance

Fr. James Mallon, the Halifax priest who founded the Divine Renovation project for parish renewal, was one of the speakers at NES 2019. - CCN photo

Fr. James Mallon of Divine Renovation was one of the speakers at the New Evangelization Summit May 4

By Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

[OTTAWA – CCN] —Fr. James Mallon told the New Evangelization Summit May 4 he has “never been more hopeful” because he has seen parish renewal despite the crash in church attendance across the western world.

The founder of Divine Renovation: From Maintenance to Mission (, which started with a book by the same name based on his experience renewing St. Benedict’s Parish in Halifax, shared recent statistics that showed 60 per cent of cradle Catholics in the United Kingdom have “nothing to do with the Church.”

“It’s 80 per cent in the United States,” he said. In Canada, France, Spain and Germany some 90 per cent don’t go to church. “For every adult convert; six others leave,” he said.

But if the Church’s “brand is damaged, the brand of Jesus is not,” he said. “Imagine what would happen if we got our act together.”

Mallon said his bishop in Halifax has “described it as a moment of crisis,” because the diocese has experienced a 50 per cent drop in Mass attendance over the last 10 years.

Halifax has gone from 90 to 42 functioning parishes and is “eventually going to move to 20 parishes,” he said. That’s intentional, with the “goal of stopping the decline to structure serve the mission and no longer drags us down.”

Other dioceses are experiencing similar problems he said.

“At some in any organization, when it becomes more concerned about the past than the future, then it becomes a museum,” Mallon said. “At that point it levels off; we become preservers of the past.

“We have the duty to conserve and preserve that which was handed on to us, but it has to be handed on to others,” he said.

If a parish becomes a museum, it is not long before “it becomes a mausoleum,” Mallon said. Maintainers and curators of a museum eventually become palliative care workers who are “accompanying the dying process of a parish.”

He spoke of a young priest who told him, “I feel like I married a dying woman who doesn’t have to be dying.” Sadly, the man eventually left the priesthood.

Meeting the challenge has to go beyond making tweaks, like putting new tires on an old car, he said. “Self-preservation is not a bad thing — it’s a good, God-given instinct — but when that’s a primary motive, it can become a form of spiritual vampirism,” he said.

Mallon stressed engagement with the world, and avoiding the temptation to pull up the drawbridge, with “rarified expressions of the liturgy” where “no outsider would feel comfortable.”

“Any organization for whom its method is more important than its mission will become irrelevant and will die,” he said.

“If we’re willing to cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is doing there’s hope,” he said, noting that even as the dominant system in the church is going into decline, “God is already bringing forth the new reality.”

“Always and everywhere we carry in us the death of Christ so the life of Christ can be made manifest,” he said. “Are we going to cooperate with the Holy Spirit or are we going to cling to the model?”

Some think while doing the same method as in the past, ‘God will surely sweep in and do something,” Mallon said.

“The call of faith is not to cling; the call of faith is to let go, not of the mission but of the method,” he said. “Let die what needs to die. If we cling to what needs to die, we go down with it.”

“My particular mission is the renewal of parishes; the Christendom models of parish life and parish structure are going down,” Mallon said. “We are called to launch the life boats, and build a new way of building parishes.”

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“Divine Renovation began as a book, he said. “We never intended to start a ministry and start a moment.”

The Divine Renovation model includes the “primacy of evangelization in everything we do;” “investing in leadership and discipleship;” trusting in the “power of the Holy Spirit;” and on the three Hs: Hymns; Homilies and Hospitality, he said.

“You have got to improve your music; double down on preaching and the experience of hospitality,” Mallon said.

The people who opened up the roof to lower a paralyzed man down to Jesus give the example of what needs to be done, he said. “When we place people at the feet of Jesus, lives are changed.”

“We console ourselves, that we have brought people into close proximity to Jesus,” he said. “When its close enough, it’s not close enough.”

The men were “willing to do whatever it took,” Mallon said. “Whose roof did they destroy?”

Changing the culture of a parish from “maintenance to mission,” requires “hard work,” and takes time, even years, he said. “There is no quick fix.”

Mallon urged Catholics to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

“The problem with the Church is we settle for the life the disciples had with Jesus on Holy Thursday,” where they “had a meal with Him, being in His presence,” he said. “That’s not the Church. That’s not Pentecost.”

“It’s not until the Spirit of God came in power that the Church was born,” he said. “We settle too often.”

There are three stages of conversion, Mallon said. The first is to Jesus Christ; the second it to His Church; and the third is to becoming a missionary disciple.