Patrick J. BRENNAN, The Mission Driven Parish. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007. pp.160, $18.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-692-4.
Reviewed by Paul D. HUESING, Paulist New England Outreach, 5 Park Street, Boston, MA 02108

Patrick J. Brennan is one of the Catholic Church’s great pastors. He currently serves as pastor of Holy Family Parish in Inverness, Illinois, outside of Chicago. In the 1980s and 1990s he served as Director of the Office for Chicago Catholic Evangelization.

This book gives an overview of the pastoral structure of Holy Family Parish, a thriving operation. The parish is based on what Brennan calls “the convergence model of evangelization.” Holy Family has eight identified areas of pastoral life: adult formation; evangelical outreach; worship; family life; operations; pastoral care; service, justice and peace; and youth ministry. Each is headed up by a Ministering Community. Leaders of these eight communities in turn provide one of their members to form the Pastoral Council. Out of the many pastoral discussions that follow the implementation of such a structure, a pattern of ministries and attitudes emerges that leads to the parish’s understanding and acceptance of its evangelizing mission.

Small groups also form an important part of parish life at Holy Family. Faith sharing makes up the core task of these groups. Elements of faith sharing are observed in all meetings, even business meetings, at Holy Family.

A parish pastoral minister or a pastoral council will get some great ideas from this book. On the other hand, the reader is likely to come away from the book with her or his head spinning. This book might better be titled “A Mission Driven Parish” rather than “The Mission Driven Parish.” It is very much about Holy Family as it is structured now. There are detailed listings of parish committees, pastoral goals, etc, but little about how they were developed and why. Little is said about the “trials and errors” that got the parish to the great place it is today. All the right pastoral sources are mentioned: Gerald Arbuckle, Tony Campolo, Donald Senior, Elizabeth Johnson, Thomas Groome, even Scott Peck and Eric Erikson. The reader senses that their thoughts are indeed embodied in the ministry at Holy Family. The problem is one of missing the forest for the trees. Brennan does mention that every parish is different and that ministerial details that work at Holy Family might not work elsewhere, but there is little or no discussion of how the reader could pick and choose for application at another parish from among the very many ministries listed.

The book begins (chapter 1) and ends (chapter 11 and the epilogue) with discussions about institutional pathology prevalent in the contemporary Catholic church. While many may find this these discussions helpful or at least thought-provoking, others will be turned off by them. Also, the author makes several historical claims about the development of the episcopal and presbyteral offices that run contrary to the church’s usual self-understanding. The author cites no academic sources to back up these controversial claims.

Still, the book does have much to offer a pastor, pastoral minister and/or pastoral council that is serious about “taking the next step” in meeting a community’s pastoral needs. A reader just needs to be prepared for the sheer number of ministries listed and the fact that while a theory of ministerial organization is named, its underpinnings are not well explained.

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