BY ADAM ROSSIOur Lady of Grace parish in Ballston Lake noticed a disturbing trend during the past few years: Fewer people were coming to Mass regularly.
Deacon Neil Hook, who serves at the parish, felt this needed to be addressed - and addressed directly.
"When we began the 'Called to be Church' [planning process] two years ago, one of the first topics was evangelization," he said. "I took it back to my pastoral council and said, 'This is something we need to be doing.'"
They agreed. Over the next several months, Deacon Hook and other parishioners recruited and trained a number of volunteers to set up surveys for Catholics either attending or no longer attending Mass.
A written survey was distributed at Masses over a period of four weekends. Then telephone calls were made to each parish household, hoping to receive some feedback from every member. In the end, a total of 453 surveys were completed.
"We finished a two-year program of attempting to contact everyone from our parish," Deacon Hook explained. "We just wanted to see what they like, or any suggestions they may have for us. We want to have them keep coming and returning."
Our survey said
Survey results sent to The Evangelist showed that parishioners who currently attend Our Lady of Grace are very happy with the ambiance of its liturgies. About 215 parishioners said they felt a "sense of a warm and welcoming atmosphere."
The faith formation program also received positive feedback, with 118 people calling it "a strong aspect of parish life."
Mary Salm is pastoral associate for faith formation at Our Lady of Grace. Though she was not involved in the surveying, she felt it was a great idea.
"It's still very early in the process," she warned; "but I certainly believe it is going to have an impact."
As far as those who no longer attend Our Lady of Grace, the leading reason was the death of former pastor Rev. Anthony Diacetis, as 31 of 107 respondents attested.
The survey concluded that "for some it was a sense of loss; for others, it was the perceived changes in the parish since that time [of Father Diacetis' passing] or the lack of a resident priest."
Other reasons for leaving the Church included its struggle with sexual abuse issues, the role of women in the Church, or parishioners' having small children, family issues or lack of motivation.
Deacon Hook hopes the surveys are just the beginning of a process that will be worth the work.
"The whole purpose is to have them realize that we want them to be reconnected with the Church," he said. "I know from hearing other parishes that they do get people to come back. We're continuing to be active."
Mrs. Salm also hopes that this will result in a positive outcome.
"I just hope this works," she said. "I hope it has enough impact. We would welcome them back."
No matter what the outcome, however, Deacon Hook greatly appreciates the effort that has been put forth.
"I give a lot of credit to all the volunteers and others who have been involved," he said. "As the pastoral leader, I'm just very appreciative of the work they've done and I pray that we get positive results."