Growing Parish Vitality: Brett Powell on Leadership Where It Matters Most
The Archdiocese of Montreal’s 2020-21 Parish Vitality Conference (PVC) series hopes to continue to inspire, equip, support and empower leaders and members of parish communities to “go forth” as missionary disciples.
“The Lord has loved us first, and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.” - Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel”, No. 24
As a next step in the planned formation, we focus on transformational leadership. The kick-off workshop, entitled “Leadership Where it Matters Most” with keynote speaker Brett Powell, will take place on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021.
Since 2019, in response to diverse needs in different localities in the diocese, the Office for English Pastoral Services (O.E.P.S.), in collaboration with a cross-functional diocesan team, planned for a different approach to the biennial Parish Vitality Conference. According to O.E.P.S. Director Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, Episcopal Vicar for the English-speaking Faithful, it was envisaged that an opening keynote event would kick-start the PVC in Nov. 2020, followed by a series of five key formation streams focused on the theme of transformation: in parish leadership, liturgy and worship, faith formation and religious education, community-building, and social action and outreach.
The PVC series opened Nov. 21, with a virtual conference led by Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, on the theme “Called By My Name, Sent in His Name”, based on his 2019 book by the same title. Over 530 participated in this online gathering, a record number for any PVC event to date.
The next step remained a question for many: but how can we lead the change that this missionary vision of the Church necessarily entails? To continue this movement of inspiring and empowering the emergence of leadership in our parish communities, Powell will guide participants through the importance of parish leadership and the benefits and how-to’s of creating a healthy parish leadership team.
An initiative of the O.E.P.S., the Parish Vitality Conference has been hosted in Montreal every two years since 2014, and has welcomed a wide range of guest speakers, acclaimed for their work in helping parishes pursue team health and missionary vitality. Among these include Baltimore’s Rebuilt team, Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran (2014), Chicago’s Deacon Keith Strohm from the Catherine of Siena Institute’s Called and Gifted program (2016) and most recently, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Divine Renovation founder Fr. James Mallon (2018). Traditionally a weekend-long, in-person event, this year’s Parish Vitality efforts began online via the cloud platform Zoom, and will necessarily continue to be offered virtually for the foreseeable future, given the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.
The Saturday morning session is open to all, both clergy and lay leaders alike. Those involved in any degree of parish leadership will not want to miss Powell, a leadership coach and consultant for both the Church and the corporate world for several years. Currently serving as the Archbishop’s Delegate for Ministries and Development in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Powell has a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership, and over 25 years of experience as a leader in the New Evangelization, having worked in Catholic missionary outreach, campus ministry, and youth ministry. As a speaker, he has presented throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Africa. In addition to co-authoring various publications, he runs a popular blog, Leadership Where it Matter Most, and partners on a podcast for Catholic men, The Way of the Heart.
Speaking with Powell, it is clear that leadership is his passion, specifically leadership in the Church. “The Church has the most important mission of all. Nothing is more important. And [healthy] leadership allows that mission to be effective,” said Powell during a recent phone interview from Vancouver.
Industry and business leaders know that leadership matters. Organizations that are well led are more effective at accomplishing their mission. Though the Catholic Church is not a business, the best practices of leadership definitely apply in the parish setting.
As a Church, we need prayerful leaders; leaders who serve the community, demonstrate a strong, active personal faith, who are knowledgeable of Church teaching and faith traditions. Leaders who get others involved, who invite others in, expanding the group, so to speak, focusing on both those we want to keep, and those we want to reach. The more people get involved, the more engaged they are in the life of the parish, and effective leadership encourages people to take on leadership roles of their own.
Learning to delegate well is also an important component in effective and great leadership. “We must delegate, giving people positions of leadership and empowering them,” says Powell. “Get people further involved.”
Of course, these are unusual times, in the world and by extension, in the Church and parishes, but “God is not surprised about the situation we are in,” said Powell, “The Church is a school, and if we have ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’, we can adapt and make an impact.” We may be living through a pandemic, but according to Powell, change is the constant landscape of leadership reality. Because we have been forced to change, to do things differently these past nine months, we have been forced out of our complacency. Change can be a gift, and the hope, he said, is that “we will apply what we have learned to our outreach later.”
In his apostolic exhortation on “Evangelization in the Modern World”, Pope Paul VI writes about the importance of personal contact, (as our isolation has made so clear to us). Nonetheless, “When [technological tools] are put at the service of the Gospel, they are capable of increasing almost indefinitely the area in which the Word of God is heard.”
Around the world, conferences, catechesis, and outreach programs have been forced to move to online formats – very often by way of the cloud platform, Zoom. No online format can replace the intimacy of gathering together in person, and many people continue to be isolated because they do not have access to the necessary technology. Online formats do, however, have the potential to reach many more people – people who would not otherwise attend an in-person event.
Powell says that he has certainly had that experience. “Some in-person events that would normally welcome 150-200 people are now attended by 1000.” Pre-pandemic, he says, “We were only limited by our own creativity.”
Powell’s focus remains the same, however, pandemic or not; leadership matters. In person, in his blog, or on his podcast, his message is clear. “The new evangelization is the most important mission in the world, it is where leadership matters most.” On his website he writes:
“Leaders that understand the power of service and self-gift, build authentic leadership – influence. In this case, followers are following not because they have to and not because of the transactional benefits. They follow because they want to. The leader has gained their trust through the sincere gift of self.”
For all those working in parishes and in the diocese, this first session of the PVC series seeks to inspire each one of us to cultivate a more dynamic approach to leadership in our respective milieux.
The free, two-hour event will be offered live through Zoom at 10 a.m. EST on Saturday, Jan. 23, with plenary segments of the workshop to be recorded and uploaded to the diocesan YouTube channel.
This diocesan project is organized by an O.E.P.S.-led extended team comprised of members from Mission Jeunesse – Youth Ministry, the Social Action Office, the Office for Faith Education, Pastoral Home Care – SASMAD, and the Pillars Trust Fund. Together, working in close collaboration with the Vicar General’s Office, as with Archbishop Durocher’s presentation in November, this event will be held bilingually, with simultaneous translation in French to be provided. We hope to make Brett Powell’s insights and experience available to all the faithful of our diocese. Together in Mission – Ensemble en mission!, we hope to transform our churches into relevant, vital and essential communities of faith in our localities.
To register online, visit:
https://bit.ly/PVC2021_Leadership (in English)
https://bit.ly/PVC2021_Leadership_FR (in French)
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