HENRITZE: Creating a culture of accompaniment at the parish

September 22, 2020

Whether it knows it or not, every parish is perceived by its parishioners and the surrounding community in a specific way. Sometimes this perception is good, and sometimes it is not. As a parishioner, if you had to describe your parish and its top characteristics, what would they be? Would non-parishioners or unengaged parishioners use the same language as you in describing the parish?

The parish’s values, expectations and practices make up its organizational culture — the essence of what the parish is.

Ideally, a parish’s culture should be rooted in our fundamental Christian culture, which the Directory for Catechesis states “is born from the awareness of the centrality of Jesus Christ and of his Gospel, which transforms the life of humanity” (102). If the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not one of the first things that comes to mind when people think about your parish, something might be wrong. Without question, the Sacraments are the primary way that people encounter the power of Christ.

However, the efficacy of the grace received through the Sacraments depends on the openness of the person receiving them.

As disciples of Jesus Christ who have encountered His transforming Gospel, we have the great honor of accompanying others who have not yet come to know Him or have fallen away from Christ through the various trials and circumstances of life.

This is a work that is required of all those who bear the mark of a disciple through their Baptism and Confirmation. As such, there are several steps your parish can work through to ensure that the parish culture focuses on accompaniment. These steps can be done by a small parish leadership team or as a whole community process.

Step One: Identify your parish’s core value. This may sound superfluous, but I assure you it is not. What you value determines how you act and how you communicate. If you are not sure what your parish values, examine your weekly announcements, bulletins and email blasts. What words, phrases, programs, or items are mentioned most often?

This is a time for honesty, and if you do not like what you see, then, as a community, identify what you do value and work from there. These values should be both relationally and mission-driven.

Step Two: Refocus Leadership.

What does leadership look like in your parish? There is no single leadership style that works for every person or organization. However, there are key principles that will help to create a culture of accompaniment. Begin by fostering a spirit of Synodality; this is a recognition that we are a community on a journey together, open to dialogue and attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Leadership in an accompaniment community focuses less on the given authority of a position and more on the earned influence of persons in leadership roles.

Step Three: Critically Assess Your Parish.

Using the core values identified, critically assess how effective your parish currently is at accompanying people in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Thinking critically does not mean thinking cynically. Ask what is working well and what needs improvement. Identify three to five strengths you can leverage and three to five areas that need change.

Step Four: Link Behaviors to Objectives.

The behaviors of your parish are your values in action; they are what the uninitiated see, and determine whether they will want to interact with you. What behaviors can the parish and its various ministries undertake to ensure that everyone is working towards the mission of accompaniment?

Step Five: Constantly Ask and Listen.

When one reads the Gospels, a clear image of Jesus begins to unfold. Jesus is consistently asking people questions and listening to their responses. If your parish seeks to have a culture of accompaniment, then you must unceasingly practice the sacred art of listening. Ask yourself if you are on the right track and if you are truly focusing on the values of your parish. Ask parishioners and non-parishioners what they are looking for and what they need. Listen to what people are saying and to what they are not saying. Finally, listen to the Holy Spirit, who will guide you into all truth.

Before we as a Church can authentically accompany others, we must first experience what it means to be accompanied. Fortunately, God Himself has first accompanied us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God has walked with us, listened to us, shared in our hopes and joys, and experienced our sorrows. To accompany us, Christ went all the way to the cross. In order to accompany our brothers and sisters, how far are we willing to go? 

Brian Henritze is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.


Young people on the Archdiocesan Youth Council share their faith experiences. 

How can a trusted adult help accompany you in your faith life?

“It is always great to have an adult that I can trust, who can listen, and respond in a way that will get me on the path to truth. My favorite metaphor of the Church is as a nurturing Mother. She is someone who is real, holding you, and guiding you to the truth.”
– Olivia, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church

“I would like it if I had an adult role model who could teach me about my faith rather than impose on me principles I don’t understand without an explanation. I know the Church can help me find answers to the longings in my heart. It has already been the greatest source of hope, community and acceptance for me.”
– Franklin, St. Albert Trapani Catholic Church

“In my faith life, I need trusted adults to always be supportive but also be able to answer my questions. Originally, our parents were the ones who taught us our faith. So, we must find answers from them or other adults we can learn from to stay close to God.”
– Danika, St. John Vianney Catholic Church