Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has stressed how important it is for the church to accompany people through their challenges and struggles. This is more than just “being with” people. It entails deeply listening to them, supporting them, and helping them listen to how God is working in their lives. When we accompany others, we help them discern how God is leading them.
An “accompanying parish” is one in which the pastor and pastoral team intentionally portray a particular attitude and posture toward all members of the parish. The attitude is one of understanding that not everyone is perfect. Perhaps no one is perfect. People often struggle to follow the norms and policies of the church or of a given parish. In an accompanying parish, the leaders recognize that people can only respond as they are able to. They gradually grow toward the norms of the parish. The posture is, therefore, one of acceptance, love, and patience.
Begin with Bill Huebsch's booklet The Art of Accompaniment, using his Powerpoint planning process to facilitate your discussion. Walking with Jesus is an excellent way to continue your conversation based firmly in Jesus' example from the Gospels. These tools will help you find the right balance between an overly church-law-centered approach (that always enforces the rules rigidly) and an overly individual-centered approach ("anything goes"). Instead, we should strive for a Christ-centered approach to discernment and formation.
Accompaniment is not accidental in a parish. To succeed as an accompanying parish requires the pastor and parish team to sit down together and do some planning and be sure they are on the same page. These tools will help you do just that.