A Desire for Renewal | Staff Reflections | The Second Sunday of Easter

Dear parishioners,

During the last few months you’ve become accustomed to reading thoughtful or informative reflections from your friars in this weekly column, but we’re switching it up a bit for the second Sunday of Easter. We’re doing this partially to give the friars a break following the marathons that are Lent and the Easter Triduum, but also to introduce an additional opportunity for our staff to speak directly with you. Consider this the first “Staff Reflection.”

I have been serving the parish as the manager of communications for just over seven months, starting in September of last year. While I’ve had the pleasure to meet and chat with dozens of parishioners in that short time, I often feel as if I am the parish’s “man behind the curtain,” which is not an unfamiliar position for me to find myself. I came to Sacred Heart following years of behind-the-scenes work, from broadcast engineering/production with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena, to ghostwriting content for many state and federal government outreach initiatives. Staying out of the limelight suits me just fine.

That’s continued at Sacred Heart. From week to week I am spoiled for choice on topics to adjust our collective focus to, from the history of our parish or its distinctive and devoted parishioners, to the Franciscan Charism, or, most importantly, our many outreach initiatives aiding the most vulnerable members of our community. These were among the many aspects that attracted me to the parish and this position to begin with, and I very much enjoy learning about and covering these topics. I have been humbled to bear witness from backstage these first few months, however, I feel it is time to step out and join you all on stage. I’ll be doing so in part to continue with the incredible traditions and philanthropic initiatives already in motion here at Sacred Heart, but also to address some of the challenges I have observed and heard reported by you, our parishioners.

After consulting with staff and volunteers, I’ve learned the last time the parish conducted listening sessions or surveys was nearly five years ago. A lot has changed in these last five years. A lot has changed in the last two and a half. Given the pastoral transitions, the pandemic, and staffing changes, I feel it would be prudent to produce a new set of listening sessions and surveys this year, to gauge parishioner sentiment and to present larger initiatives to parishioners, especially items that will affect the parish long term.

I’m not a fan of pushing for change when starting a new project or job. Working nearly eight years in the sports world, I can tell you that the quickest way to “lose a locker room,” or the collective buy-in from your constituents, is to make a bunch of changes without consulting those most invested: “the team,” or in this case, you, our parishioners. In providing these listening sessions, decisions will not be made in a silo from the new guy. I’ll look to this as my first major project within the parish.

One of the first items on the docket for discussion is evaluating the need for a renewed identity for the parish. More simply put, the friars and staff wish to create a new vision or mission statement for the parish, and potentially new branding to go along with it. Any prospective vision or mission statement should be succinct in defining what our internal and external priorities and goals are as a parish. We have so many wonderful ministries at Sacred Heart. It would be beneficial to have a unifying thread across these ministries, so that no matter how ministry members may meet visitors or prospective new parishioners, they could easily define who we are and what we do at Sacred Heart.

Creating a unified vision for Sacred Heart may help us address an additional growing concern. A concern that is certainly not exclusive to Sacred Heart, or any church for that matter. A recent Gallup poll suggests that church membership, irrespective of denomination or creed, is down more than 10 percent during the last decade, falling below a nationwide majority for the first time since the surveyor began measuring membership some 85 years ago. For the same reasons we wish to move forward with new listening sessions and surveys, we can assume our own membership and active participation have been affected in recent years.

We can address these concerns, however, with the renewed identity. We can devise better ways to communicate with members of our parish who may not have returned following the height of the pandemic. We can reach out to new residents moving into our parish boundaries from out of state. We can enhance or prioritize programming to cater to the needs of current and prospective parishioners in multiple demographic subsets. While this all sounds very technical, it has a common goal of renewal, a theme very much in line with our current liturgical focus.

There is a deep desire among the staff for renewal. While I cannot speak to the way things used to be, or whether the “way things used to be” is particularly the ways things should be now or in the future, I do share in that passion for renewal. I want to help Sacred Heart continue to be something it always has been; a community trailblazer focused on stewardship and charity. I look forward to working with you, our parishioners, to make that renewal a reality.

Peace and all good,
Rob Boelke