By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When were you appointed Parish Life Director for St. Bernadette Catholic Church and approximately how many families are members of you parish?
Deacon Jim: July 2016. 700 Registered Families
Gordon: For our readers who may not be aware of what a Parish Life Director is, could you provide an overview of the position and your responsibilities? Deacon
Deacon Jim: As the Parish Life Director for St. Bernadette Catholic Church I am entrusted with the responsibility for service at the altar and with day-to-day organization and oversight of parish operations. The title was changed from Deacon Administrator to Parish Life Director after I assumed the position.
Gordon: When and why did you decide to become a deacon and where did you study?
Deacon Jim: I entered college with the intent of becoming a Presbyterian Minister. I am the grandson of a Presbyterian Minister for whom I am named (Rev James E. Fawcett). For whatever reason my determination waned and instead, I obtained a double Major in English and Speech. While in Graduate School (studying Theatre Design and Technology) I met and ultimately married my wife Teresa, a cradle Catholic. At the urging of my Presbyterian Grandmother (Helen Fawcett). Her words still resonate with me today: "Jimmy, I would rather you were Catholic than nothing at all".
I converted to Catholicism (9 years later). After formal induction into the Church we were required to make a “profession of faith” (why we converted) at Mass. After my presentation, at the end of Mass our Deacon whispered to me “You’ll be a Deacon someday.” He doesn’t remember saying it. That was 1987? I didn’t pursue it at the time but the thought stuck with me. I became very active in my Parish St Peter Claver in Simi Valley, CA which included co-chairing the Capital Development committee for a new church and later as the Director of Development during the construction of a Preschool/Kindergarten/Youth Center
After 22 years in the insurance industry I was laid off in 2001. It was then that the idea resurfaced; perhaps because I was no longer chasing a career. I applied to enter the formation program in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It took me two years to be accepted. Once accepted the formation program was 5 years long. My wife Teresa studied with me. The program was conducted here in Los Angeles by the Diaconate Formation Department in the Archdiocese." I was ordained June 09, 2012 (06/09/12)
Gordon: You have a fascinating background and have held several positions with various parishes. You also have a background in theater, Chartered Property Casualty underwriting, and fundraising .What interested you in using your diverse talents to help address the many needs of the various parishes whom you have assisted?
Deacon Jim: I don’t think there was ever a conscious intent on my part to use my gifts and experience to ultimately serve the Church. Heading forward the road is never clear, but in looking back I constantly see God’s hand in directing and sometimes redirecting my life. Theater arose out of the morality plays which arose out of the Church of the Middle ages. Liturgy, Music, Homiletics, Church environment all “play well” with theatrical performance and design skills. Churches are “not for profit” organizations.
The skills of Marketing apply to a church the same as they do to other charitable organizations such as the YMCA, or an Education Foundation or a Community Foundation, or a faith based school and so on. The same federal laws that apply to not for profits apply to churches as well. Churches also operate like a business. The issues of staffing, physical plant, marketing/promotion, budgets, communications are present here as anywhere else. 22 years in the business world, including running a department with a staff of 300 people, is excellent training for the “business” side of operating a church.
Gordon: You have worked globally including, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. How has your international experience help address some of the challenges at St. Bernadette’s?
Deacon Jim: I should mention that I was a member of the first Delegation of Fundraising Professionals permitted into mainland China. I was also a Diversity Marketing Manager for a time during my business career. These experiences have taught me to approach every experience with joyful enthusiasm and a desire to learn about other cultures. It is not only about what is different, but what is the same. It has taught me to embrace other cultures and traditions while maintaining my own cultural identity. My parish, St Bernadette is 95% African American, but not just African American. There is a heavy Creole influence with its origins in Louisiana. Creole originates from a French-Canadian influence. (Too much information???) Case in point, I was asked to involve my parish in a celebration of immigration event. My parishioners don’t consider themselves immigrants even though they are of African descent. I’ll let you think about that one awhile
Gordon: As fewer and fewer young people are active parish members, what are some the strategies that have been helpful in interesting young adults to be an active member of St. Bernadette’s?
Deacon Jim: Good Question! And one with which many parishes are struggling. I believe we need to meet people where they are. There is not a lot of hope left in the world today. Our young people are finding there is still a portion of their psyche which social media and technology fail to satisfy. Everyone still needs to be accepted and loved. I think that was/is Christ’s message: “Come as you are, the rest of it we’ll work out later.” We need to start by being warm, welcoming and user friendly.
Gordon: What social media resources have you found most helpful in fundraising?
Deacon Jim: In recent years, I realized the need to learn social media which is another important issue churches face. My time spent as the DMD at an inner city Catholic school taught me that. Every parish needs a content rich website, Facebook page, and a yelp page. Updated regularly with the emphasis on visual content. Make sure you have on-line giving and learn go-fund-me techniques.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview and your advice.