Bill Simon Jr., author of “Great Catholic Parishes: A Living Mosaic – How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive,” will be keynote speaker at the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Ministry Conference April 26.
Bill Simon Jr., author of “Great Catholic Parishes: A Living Mosaic – How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive,” will be keynote speaker at the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Ministry Conference April 26.

Catholic parishes might be the greatest engine for good in history.

That’s the contention of Bill Simon Jr., author of “Great Catholic Parishes: A Living Mosaic – How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive.” Simon, a businessman and philanthropist, will be keynote speaker at the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Ministry Conference, set for 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, at the Wilsonville Holiday Inn.

The annual gathering for Catholic pastors, parish staff and volunteers aims to energize and advance parish ministry. That’s precisely the aim of Simon’s 2016 book.

He and a team researched for two years, inquiring around the nation about effective parishes. After interviews of 244 pastors, the two went through transcripts and discovered that their findings fell into four categories: leadership, the Sunday experience, spiritual formation and evangelization. The book takes the findings and offers practical tips.   

On leadership, Simon found that shared power is common to all exceptional parishes.

While the Eucharist is central, also important for a great Sunday experience are welcome, preaching and music. But even more key is what goes on the rest of the week, Simon explains, noting that effective parishes have small groups and social media communities. 

To boost spiritual formation, parishioners need opportunities to learn and serve. Parishes need to do what they can to get more people engaged. While at the average Catholic parish about 18 percent of people are substantially involved, the rate at parishes where Simon interviewed was about 30 percent. He thinks parishes can increase engagement in small increments.  

On evangelization, Simon says lay people are itching to live out their beliefs publicly. The key there is living out, not just talking about it. They need opportunities.  In the book, Simon discusses evangelizing on a mission trip to Kenya. 

“I am hoping that when someone reads my book that they are going to be amazed at what a wealth of good is going on in parishes and how they may be able to plug into their parish and maybe be a part of the parish in a way they hadn’t been before,” Simon says.  

The principal lesson Simon offers is optimism. “I don’t think I have pink sunglasses on,” he says.

He says that even small parishes can find ways to be effective. No one has to do everything the book suggests, but should at least try some, he explains.

Many of the pastors speak of catching the fair winds of the Pope Francis effect. Parishioners seem to have pastoral zeal.

Simon credits the idea of parishes being history’s great engine for good to his friend Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Speaking like the businessman that he is, Simon sees that Catholic parishes are in place all over the country. 

“It’s a distribution system any business would envy,” he says. “Also, how many companies would die for a 2,000-year track record?”

During a Catholic Channel interview last year, Simon told Cardinal Timothy Dolan he was tired of the public narrative about the Catholic Church and profoundly grateful for how his California parish had formed his family. The book grew out of those two strong feelings.

He assured Cardinal Dolan that the notion of the parish as a hub of community and transformation is not dead. 

“The future’s bright,” Simon concludes. 

Simon, who in 2002 ran unsuccessfully to become governor of California, is son of the man who served as Secretary of Treasury under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.  

In addition to Simon’s talks, the conference will include panel presentations and small group discussions focused on how parishes can integrate the archdiocese’s pastoral priorities. Archbishop Alexander Sample will preside at Mass.

For more information, email at [email protected] Registration costs $50 at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2017-pastoral-ministry-conference-tickets-32139179150