A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass for some alums of Marquette and Notre Dame working in Hollywood. The event was held at a beautiful home with a large backyard that allowed for a great evening of conversation.
Amidst the socializing someone came up to me and commented on how they’d never been to a Mass in a home before and on what a rich and intimate experience it had been. “You know,” she said, “they should do an Uber for priests!”
Given the already overtaxed state of the clergy, it’s hard to imagine there would be enough manpower to consistently offer such a service. But considering the idea even hypothetically leads to some interesting insights. For instance, if an intimate setting can provide such a rich personal experience of church and Christ, what can we do to give people that kind of intimacy at our parishes? For instance, do we use a space other than the main church for daily Mass, a space that better suits the smaller numbers that might be present? Or do we offer other sorts of services, like Eucharistic adoration, that invite a greater sense of intimacy? Does our parish have group activities like Christian Life Community or support groups that are built around small groups of people sharing and supporting each other? And, maybe, do we make the occasional home Mass, perhaps for groups of families, a part of each priest or deacon’s work?
Another thing about Uber: at the end of your ride, you rate your driver. She didn’t get you where you need to go fast enough? His car was a mess? Mark them accordingly, offer comments and see results—because if they don’t change, they stop getting customers.
In the church, we have no such clear feedback mechanism. As a priest, I can tell you that trying to discern whether your homily landed (let alone whether your style of presiding allowed the liturgy to happen in a prayerful way) can be nearly impossible. You hunt for clues amongst the most vague of signs—Did they look at me when they left Mass? Did they smile in a “nice homily, Father” kind of way? Was the collection up or down? Did they stay for the final blessing? Maybe it means something. Maybe it doesn’t.
The fact is, parishioners are never going to tell you that you’re boring or offensive. And yet within a parish community there most certainly is a sense of which priests and deacons you want to hear from and which you don’t, whose Masses take forever, who’s insensitive to women, who’s good with the kids.
No one looks forward to receiving laundry lists of the things they’re doing wrong. At the same time, I think most clergy do want to know if their style is not working, or if they could be doing something better. Could there be an app for that? Not Uber, maybe, but Rate (or better yet, Help) My Priest?
Or maybe we should ask every priest and deacon to do a liturgy or preaching practicum every five years, a workshop situation where they preside and preach and receive feedback and support from both professionals and ordinary people? Most professions demand ongoing professional development. Why shouldn’t we do the same?
A last issue the Uber idea brings up is the question of accessibility. In some places it is undoubtedly still true that you can call a rectory in the middle of the night and a priest will answer. Other places, that’s far less likely.
And yet there are occasions when finding a priest in the middle of the night is an urgent necessity. So what if a diocese did develop a sort of Uber app for the Last Rites, a place to which the family of a loved one could go and find nearby priests who have made themselves available to do the anointing? Something easy that could remove the frustration of calling parish after parish searching for a priest when every moment is so precious. It could even be the kind of thing where every priest of the diocese agrees to pitch in a certain number of nights a month.
Probably, there would still be issues of availability. But maybe in this case, as in the others, it’s worth the experiment anyway, if only to see what it might teach us about how we can better go about serving people with the limited resources we have. It’s strange but true that Silicon Valley and Christianity are both predicated on the belief that out of one abject failure can come new opportunity in abundance—and not just in belief but in lived experience.
So maybe we just need to take some risks and see what happens.