Archbishop Etienne: Setting a renewed course for the church in Alaska


In recent months, I’ve been prayerfully asking: “What kind of church is God calling us to be today?” I believe that much of the answer lies in the papacy of Pope Francis. As Saint Francis himself was called to “renew my church,” I believe we are being called to a renewal in our time by this pope. I’m all in!

As a new year begins, I wish to share with you some basic components of where we will be directing our energies in the foreseeable future. Already planning is underway to schedule a series of listening sessions around the archdiocese with an eye to better understanding your needs and desires, as well as a place for me to share my own. My desire is that we set our course together in a collaborative fashion.

For any plan to be successful, it must understand and embrace the present reality. Pope Francis likes to say that reality is greater than ideas. Part of the reality that we are called to embrace is this:

  • The culture and society of our not too distant past reflected many of our own Judeo-Christian values and morals — not so much today. Rather, the culture is less and less welcoming — is more and more aggressively working to silence our voice and values and is less willing to meet us on common ground.
  • In the past, the church family, or parish, played a big role in family life — for many of our families that is not so much the case today.
  • In the past, extended family played a crucial role in passing on the faith to the younger members by means of a cultivated Catholic culture or climate — not so much today.
  • Parish ministries in the past were more parish-centered because their members were ‘active’ and ‘practicing’ — not so much today.
  • Today, we are in a struggle to hold onto membership, especially among young adults.
  • In the past, people who in areas of their life fell short of living in conformity with church teaching were discouraged from participation in parish life. We are called to learn new ways of being church.

All of this adds up to a very different landscape for us today. Most of us would like to be facing different realities than these, and perhaps, some are even resentful about the present state of affairs. Many people today long for “the good ole days” when the church held greater prestige.

However, reality being what it is, we cannot be pessimists. Because we are a people of faith, we are always a people of hope! So, let us continue our journey with our heads up, following Christ as we seek to live the Gospel and lead others into its saving light. Ours is a time of rebuilding.


Pope Francis in his first five years as our chief shepherd has given us five building blocks for the “reconstruction” project at hand. In short, he is calling the church today to a moment of encounter with Christ — to accompany one another in companionship with Christ. He is calling us to dialogue (respectfully) with each other, especially with those who hold different opinions or beliefs. He is calling us to discernment regarding the inspiration and direction being granted us by the Holy Spirit, that we might help each person, no matter where they are in their faith journey or in their present understanding of the truth. He is asking us to more deeply integrate into the life of the church.

Let us make these principles our own: encounter, accompany, dialogue, discern and integrate.

It is important to be clear, the core beliefs and traditions of the church are solid, built upon the Rock of Peter’s faith, given us by Christ himself, handed down through the magisterium of the church. These do not change.

It is our “delivery system” that needs attention. Down through the ages, every generation is called to inculturate the Gospel, to proclaim the Good News to each culture in a manner that can be heard, received and embraced. This is our mission. The church is called to the work of evangelization.

It is not proselytizing that draws people to the faith, but the warmth of credible witnesses. This is another cue we are to take from Pope Francis. More and more today we must earn the right to speak of our faith in Christ to others. Once others see the joy and contentment we have discovered and lived because of our Encounter with Christ, they will want to know more about our life, our experience, our faith and ultimately about Jesus Christ.

Keep looking for information about a listening session near you in the coming months, and join the planning process. Please join me in prayer as together we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in setting our course for the coming years. In the same time, know of my prayers and love for each of you.

The writer is the archbishop of Anchorage.

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