A wise friend once told me that in the spiritual life you are either improving and moving forward or you are sliding backward. In other words, there is no plateau or stasis in the spiritual life. The same likely holds true for our churches in Vermont. As we focus on the need for vibrant parishes throughout the Diocese of Burlington, there are com-mon elements that experts have noted that are the recipe for creating vibrant and growing churches.

The word vibrant comes from a Latin root meaning “to move to and fro.” Indeed, a “vibrant” parish is one that is moving forward, seeking to grow, evangelize and form new disciples. It is not random movement but movement guided by the Holy Spirit both within the parish and outside the walls of the church into a world that is in desperate need to hear the Good News of salvation. So, what makes a vibrant parish, particularly when it comes to youth and young adult ministry (my particular area of focus)? I would like to highlight several elements that can greatly help in creating vibrant and Spirit-led parishes:

+Retreat and prayer. Vibrant parishes are rooted in prayer and offer retreats and opportunities for deep spiritual growth. As the old adage goes, “You cannot pour out of an empty vessel.” Vibrant parishes take prayer seriously and also prioritize the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and reconciliation.

+Evangelization. Vibrant parishes understand at a deep and profound level the apostolic mandate given to us by Christ to bring the Gospel to all nations. A vibrant parish is not a club, nor is it a place for one’s own personal growth and edification or a place where we gather to serve in the community. A vibrant parish is a place where the entire congregation is mission-focused and sees that the Gospel truly is “Good” News worth sharing. A vibrant parish knows it does not have all the answers, but it is willing to share in humility that there is hope in Christ.

+Reaching the margins. A vibrant parish reaches into the margins and seeks out the lost and forgotten. A vibrant parish is not satisfied with comfortable Christianity but instead goes out into the highways and byways, serving, sharing and simply being with those in our communities, especially the elderly, poor and needy. A vibrant parish reaches out to the young and those who might seem like they would have nothing to do with the Church. A vibrant parish is attractive to everyone because the “joy of the Lord” is its strength and power.

+Lay leaders and lay collaboration. A vibrant Catholic parish is a place where all are expected and empowered to share in the missionary purpose of the Church. In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the apostles and their successors the duty of teach-ing, sanctifying and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world. Vibrant parishes rely on good pastors, but they also rely on laity who understand their role in spreading the Good News through faith and works.

+A mentoring culture. A vibrant parish creates a mentoring culture where all the adults seek out and minister to the young in the parish. A vibrant parish recognizes the dangers lurking in the world today and wants to do everything it can to protect and defend the young. May our parishes be rooted in the Holy Spirit and may the Spirit guide us to be rooted in hope so that we can spread the Good News, and may all this be done for the glory of God.

Bill Gavin is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Burlington.

—Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

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