FLUSHING — The synod process has only recently been completed at churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn, but it’s already bearing fruit at St. Andrew of Avellino Church in Flushing, as the parish administrator is taking action to show parishioners that he is taking their ideas seriously.
After conducting synod listening sessions with parishioners, Father Gregory McIlhenney has changed the Saturday vigil and Sunday Mass schedules, introduced bilingual Masses for Holy Days, and opened up the decision-making process to give parishioners a greater voice in the life of the church.
For example, parishioners had the opportunity to vote on the new Mass schedule.
“One of the things that we did initially see was that people were frustrated because they didn’t feel like they were involved in the process,” said Father McIlhenny, who has been at St. Andrew Avellino for a year. “So I tried to lay that all out there, in the beginning, saying, ‘Hey listen, this is where we are. And we’re going to decide together as a parish where we’re going in the future.’ ”
The new schedule, which began July 2, is as follows: Saturday Vigil 4 p.m.; Sunday Masses 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. (Spanish), and 11 a.m. (Choir). Under the old schedule, the Saturday Vigil was at 5 p.m. On Sundays, there were Masses at 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m. (Choir) and 12:30 p.m. (Spanish).
Moving the Saturday Vigil to 4 p.m. “could really help us in the winter months with our older population,” Father McIlhenney said. “They don’t want to come out when it’s dark.”
Another idea that came out of the synod was also put into practice. Taking a suggestion from parishioner Joseph Esposito, who wants to encourage young adults to become more involved in parish life, the church hosted a barbecue for people ages 21-35 on July 7.
“We finished the synod not too long ago, so for us to be having the barbecue so fast is great,” said Esposito, who is 25 and has been attending St. Andrew Avellino since childhood.
The synod, called by Pope Francis, is an ongoing process in which churches around the world conduct listening sessions to gather ideas from parishioners and to hear their concerns. The reports gathered by individual churches will be sent to local dioceses, who in turn will submit them to a governing national body (in the case of the U.S., it’s the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). The national bodies will submit reports on behalf of their countries to the Vatican.
The process began in 2021 and is expected to be completed next year.
At St. Andrew Avellino, approximately 200 parishioners participated in the listening sessions, which began in December.
One concern was voiced over and over again, according to Father McIlhenney, who said parishioners — both English and Spanish speaking — expressed a desire for unity.
Most of the parish is American-born, but approximately 25% of the parishioners are Spanish-speaking people from Central and South American countries.
“Although we’re one parish, they felt fragmented. And so with the Pastoral Council, the Finance Council, and my two trustees, we’re trying to bring it together and have that unified parish, that one parish family of St. Andrew Avellino,” Father McIlhenney explained.
To accomplish this goal, the church is now celebrating bilingual Masses on Holy Days. The first of these took place on Ash Wednesday.
The Lenten season brought about another change to the Stations of the Cross on Fridays. The parish used to have separate Stations of the Cross, one in English and the other in Spanish.
“And they probably would get about 70 people combined together. But this year, I said, ‘No, we’re one parish. We’re going to do the stations bilingually.’ We found that we had more people coming. We averaged anywhere from 90 to 100 people at Stations of the Cross every Friday,” Father McIlhenney said.
The Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi, which took place on June 19, was also bilingual.
Esposito said he’s glad he took part in the synod process.
“It was a real eye-opener,” he recalled. “It was interesting to hear from different people with different perspectives. I was happy I was able to bring my perspective to it.”