Each weekend in Australia, over 700,000 Catholics attend Mass. We often lament the absence of the other four million plus who have identified themselves as Catholics in the 2006 Census, but who do not go to Mass regularly, if at all. We can bemoan the empty pews, the lack of priests, secular concerns, the ‘Xmas’ factor and so on, but we forget about the many parishes known to be vital faith communities, offering spiritual, emotional and, often, practical support to families and individuals. Instead of looking at the “glass half empty”, perhaps we need to look at the “glass half full”? Or, more accurately, perhaps we need to re-discover the “leaven” in our faith communities? William Bausch, then, asks us to appreciate where our strengths lie, the treasures that are our local parishes.
There is a wealth of books on how parishes can do better in specific areas: pastoral care, pastoral planning, evangelization, encouraging youth, empowering leadership and so on. This review will focus on research-based material which looks at identifying and measuring factors related to a holistic understanding of parish health and vitality. The review will also look at books which, through narratives, tell us about parishes that have overcome particular challenges or worked toward a new vision.