Counting isn’t just for October anymore.
For an entire year, parishes throughout the Jefferson City diocese will keep close track of the number of people attending Mass each Sunday and holyday of obligation, beginning Aug. 6-7.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight and his advisors will use the collected data for ongoing pastoral planning and the appropriate allocation of resources throughout the diocese.
Each parish’s weekly count will include in-person and online attendance of weekend Masses and authorized Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.
“What we’re looking for is a more exact snapshot of where we are and where we’re going in relation to the seating capacity of each church, so we can better serve the whole diocese with an increasingly limited number of priests,” said Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general of the diocese, who is overseeing the Mass counts.
Bishop McKnight called for this year-round process with the unanimous approval of the diocesan Presbyteral Council, made of priests of the diocese, and the deans of each geographic region, known as a deanery.
This yearlong count period is an extension of the annual October Count, which parishes throughout the diocese have been taking since 2001.
“For many years, the October Count has been a very useful tool for pastoral planning,” said Msgr. Kurwicki. “But as we enter into a new phase of planning for the future, we need to have a more detailed count in order to provide even better pastoral care throughout the diocese.
“It will give us a clearer picture of trends and will take into account various statistical anomalies that come with doing the counts during just one period of the year,” he said.
A key statistic from each year’s October Count has been the average percentage of each church’s total seating capacity that is being used for each Mass.
That will continue to be the case with these yearlong Mass counts.
“We’re past the point of being able to offer Masses of convenience,” Msgr. Kurwicki noted. “We no longer have the luxury of having enough priests to offer Masses in churches that are consistently half-filled or nearly empty.”
Bishop McKnight will take these numbers into account when assigning priests to parishes and helping them determine how many weekend Masses each parish should have.
The number of available priests has been steadily declining, as has the number of people who regularly attend Mass in many parts of the diocese.
Msgr. Kurwicki noted that the extended Mass counts will also help clergy and laypeople alike focus more clearly on evangelization and reconnecting with people who are separated from active participation in parish life.
“There are many reasons why our Mass attendance isn’t what it used to be,” said Msgr. Kurwicki. “This is a clarion call to all of us to work together to be better friends, better neighbors, better evangelizers and better reconcilers.”
The same applies to encouraging priestly vocations within families and communities, he said.
“Who are we to question why we don’t have as many priests as we’d like if we’re not encouraging the people around us, the people we love, to think about whether God is calling them to Priesthood?” he stated.
He said change is seldom easy, and challenges are rarely overcome without sacrifice, but the extra effort, with God’s blessing, can make all the difference.
“History is watching,” he stated with a nod to Sir Winston Churchill. “Let this be our finest hour.”