How does a church with only two clergy host 5,000 people each Sunday, run a 1,300 student youth ministry, and keep 8 choirs in check? Fr. Paul Williams of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Dalton, Georgia says it’s all about letting the people lead.
Catholic parishes, which are often this large and often this sparsely staffed, have much to teach about handing day-to-day operations back to church members. Fr. Paul says this can only happen when clergy truly love their churches, and work hard at building trust and solidarity.
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Fr. Paul Williams has only been at St. Joseph’s for 2 years, but has already made an indelible mark on this bilingual parish. He says for a parish like this to thrive, lay leadership must be strong. In this interview he describes life at St. Joseph’s and tells us how a theology of cradle to grave, liturgical spiritual formation builds a strong community. Here are my notes from the interview:
Recognize Christ in Children
Fr. Paul describes the typical St. Joseph’s seeker as a baby in the arms of its mother. In other words, intentional nurture at every step of a Catholic’s life is the goal, from Sunday School through adulthood.
Learn to Say Yes
Fr. Paul says the role of the pastor is not to come up with the ideas, but to get to know the parish, keeping it out of troubled waters, and to try to say ‘yes’ as often as possible to the ideas that come from the people.
3 Keys to a Successful Pastorate
Fr. Paul says success awaits every pastor who remembers 1) it’s not about you, it’s about God, 2) the importance of developing deep affection for the people, and 3) simply being kind – it goes a long way.
About Fr. Williams
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr. is a native of west Georgia and a priest with the Archdiocese of Atlanta for 16 years. Before ordination he was a Georgia Tech graduate and computer scientist in the Defense Industry, designing Flight Control Software for fighter jets. He attended seminary at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmistburg, MD, and holds a Masters of Divinity. In 2001 and 2002, he lived in El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico as part of the Atlanta-El Paso Project, designed to train young pastors and seminarians in Spanish language and culture. With that experience, he came back to serve Georgia’s ever-growing Hispanic population. In his years in Georgia, he has started Spanish Language Masses at three Georgia parishes, which began small – in trailer parks – and each now serves thousands every Sunday. He has served bilingual communities in three other parishes as pastor and is now assigned to the largest bilingual parish in the Southeast, Saint Joseph’s in Dalton, Georgia. Saint Joseph’s has more than 5000 people who attend Mass each Sunday – 90% Hispanic – and baptizes more than 600 people in Spanish each year. Father Williams is an active blogger who, along with Saint Joseph’s has been on the front lines speaking out on Georgia’s recent Immigration law, with numerous television and print interviews and public forums.
Books Fr. Williams Recommends
In Conversation with God: Meditations for Each Day of the Year (7 Volume Set) – Francisco Fernández-Carvajal
Opus Dei Daily Spirituality Series (in Spanish on the web)
Excellent Catholic Parishes - Paul Wilkes
Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card
Sponsors I Mentioned
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