One and a half score of Mass Mobs and five years ago, the Buffalo Mass Mob co-founders brought forth in this diocese a new initiative, conceived by the laity and dedicated to the proposition that no church should be forgotten. Now we are reaching a great anniversary, celebrating that an initiative so conceived and so dedicated has so long endured.
All oration aside, it seems incredible that the Mass Mob is now five years old. And it seems fitting that, in a kind of coming full circle, on its fifth anniversary the thirtieth Mass Mob will be held at the church where it started, St. Adalbert’s Basilica.
How did the Mass Mob come to start there? The Mass Mob idea came out of a social media conversation between three of us co-founders in 2013, seeking a way to help St. Ann’s Church and Shrine, then in a crisis over a threatened demolition. The first Mass Mob would have been held outside St. Ann’s, on church grounds, but before it could be organized the diocese barred the Friends of St. Ann’s from celebrating Mass on the church grounds. So where to go?
Fortunately, St. Adalbert’s was just the place, with just the people. Last month, I sat down with several of the parishioners of St. Adalbert’s (now merged with St. John Kanty) at the Happy Swallow on Sycamore Street, a favorite hangout. Because St. Adalbert’s is only allowed to hold Mass four times a year, they have other ways of getting people together and keeping people together. Many of them go back generations at the church, but even stronger bonds were formed by the campaign to keep the church open.
A good summary of that effort can be found in the April issue of Buffalo Spree devoted to Polish western New York, including this interview with Tod Kniazuk who, with his parents, were among those I talked with at the Happy Swallow. Details on this history and architecture of the church can be found here.
Also helping keep the St. Adalbert’s congregation together is that they were an early adopter of Facebook. This was important to the Mass Mob, a creature of social media, and its precursor, the Facebook Mass. So five years ago, when the Mass Mob initiative was brand new, untested, and unknown, they were ready to field the inevitable questions and concerns that a “mob” would be coming to the church. They could say, “Remember cash mobs?” (another precursor of the Mass Mob) “well, it’s like that.” That tamped down concern, but not uncertainty: how many would show up? As it happened, quite a few.
Since the Mass Mob worked – and worked well – at St. Adalbert’s, it merited trying again. And again. And again. Until, between Mass Mobs and several Rosary Mobs on the sidewalk in front of St. Ann’s, there have been nearly three dozen gatherings. And the Mass Mob idea, picked up on the media wire services, spread, in one form or another, to a dozen or two cities around the nation (predominantly in the rust belt).
Along the way, as I recounted in this week’s article Corporate Jesus, the Mass Mob has been like a series of case studies in the challenges faced by urban parishes and even a few suburban ones. Priests, lay leaders, and rank-and-file Catholics are keeping their churches open and doing their best to remain relevant to their communities.
Yesterday, at Canisius College, a committee of prominent Catholic lay leaders gave a press conference about an initiative to strengthen lay leadership in the diocese. They have reached out to Leadership Roundtable, a Catholic organization formed by corporate executives in response to the church abuse crisis a decade and a half ago, that applies business principles to church management. They plan a symposium at Canisius at 7:00 PM on November 28, in the Montante Cultural Center. More information will be forthcoming. After the press conference, WKBW reporter Charlie Specht had some perceptive tweets, including these:
While it’s good to see energy behind reform, I can’t help thinking that we should also be learning from folks like the congregation of St. Adalbert’s Basilica, who took savvy, concerted, well-led action to keep their church open. And as Father Paul Seil (until this year’s closing of Daybreak TV, perhaps best known outside his parish for his cooking show, Our Daily Bread) correctly said on social media yesterday, we should also be learning from the folks at St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy (about whose extraordinary work I wrote here, who every day – for two decades – have made everything out of nothing. I would also add Ss. Columba-Brigid (about which I wrote here), whose priest, Father Jud Weiksnar, emailed me about my article this week praising the lay leadership in his parish – a rare multi-ethnic, mixed-income place where many “roamin’” Catholics displaced by church closings have found a welcoming home and put down roots.
Studies and consultants and corporate principles and “experts from afar” have a place. But if those on the committee who held the press conference yesterday had been along on the five-year odyssey of the Buffalo Mass Mob, they would realize the answers are all there, in the thriving, beautiful, and sometimes messy Catholic ecosystem that you can stop by and see in all its glory.
Speaking of glory, take a look at this video of photos of St. Adalbert’s Basilica:
Please stop by Saturday for the thirtieth Mass Mob, and help celebrate the Mass Mob’s fifth anniversary. The folks from St. Adalbert’s would love to see you, and (trust me on this) they have the best receptions.
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