Leader Spotlight: Father Jim Parke

Father Parke is originally from McKeesport, PA., near Pittsburgh, and has been a “teacher” throughout his four-plus decades as a priest. Father Parke was assigned to Church of the Holy Apostles in 2004. The 125 families of this unique Anglican/Roman Catholic congregation in Virginia Beach “share a vision with their Bishops and Priests to form a visible sign of Christian unity.” 
What appealed to you in the first place about Gamaliel’s Fire of Faith Campaign? 

The thing I like about the Fire of Faith Campaign, is that even though I’m still in the beginning stages of it, we’re saying to our congregations ‘hey, how about we walk with you,’ instead of ‘why don’t you walk with us.’ We’re saying, ‘tell us about your congregation, and tell us what’s going on.’ We can get into whatever they’re doing with social justice. There’s more of a focus on individual congregations. We can tell where the fire isn’t burning as well. We have aging congregations here. [With Fire of Faith] you’re doing a one-on-one, and then inviting them to do one-on-ones with their staff. The one-on-one is the igniter that will turn that congregation around. It will help develop a core team, though each of these churches has their own agenda. Right now we’re getting ready to celebrate our 10th anniversary but we’re in a spot where we have four churches; we used to have around 12 churches. There has definitely been a half-life. Right now Angela [James] and I are trying to stir up new congregations and rekindle others that have faded away. 

And what are your thoughts on Gamaliel training? 

It’s been a slow process trying to get some of these new congregations to the April training. Once they are there, they’ll sense the importance. They’ll feel that someone cares about their congregation and they can plug in their energy to bigger projects. In Virginia we have a focus on transportation, but recently we have been focused on the Medicaid extensions. We’re finding out that a lot of our younger pastors, especially our new Catholics in Virginia, don’t really think outside the box. Though we do want to know what is inside the box, we need to teach them to think outside the box as well. If they’re too self-involved, their church will wither and die. Fire of Faith invites them to think creatively and grow. I get tired of being the only priest in Virginia Beach that’s involved in community activity. When people sense that a pastor is really willing to listen to them there is much more excitement and involvement. 

What is your number one concern that you feel is addressed by Fire of Faith? 

I see congregational development as key. If our churches are dying who will be on the board? The people we have right now are workers, but their median age is 65. I feel like I’m 73 going on 37, but we need some fresh blood; it’s a challenge considering some of our newly ordained are very conservative and retrograde in their mindset. I am concerned about advocacy so I do have an agenda, but my first goal is to listen to their concerns. If they are concerned about a food program, I’m trying to get them involved with the board so we can make it a group effort. It takes time. 

Do you think Fire of Faith has aligned well with your Catholic social teachings? 

Of course it does. We were able to get started and continue on due to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). It fits in with their agenda of helping people help themselves. Bishop Sullivan was so excited when we began he gave us $25,000 to get us started. It’s been one of the best things Catholic bishops ever did. These new tools Gamaliel and Fire of Faith have taught are great. The economic goal to get a million people back to work by 2015 is fantastic.

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