What the Marvel Cinematic Universe Can Teach Us About Parish Ministry

Last week on Twitter I had a short conversation with Marc Cardaronella about the new Avenger’s movie. We both agreed that it’s a great flick and continues Marvel’s string of strong superhero outings.

What I’m most impressed by, however, is how well The Avengers brings together the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). For the non-geeks out there, for several years Marvel has been building a complete universe across multiple movies. These films (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man II, Thor, and Captain America) exist in the same continuity — they share characters and settings, and events in one movie affect events in the next movie. The MCU comes to a head in The Avengers, which brings together the main characters from all the movies for one action-packed spectacle.

But that spectacle wouldn’t be as spectacular if the characters and events hadn’t already been set up before in the other movies. By coordinating the movies and taking the time to slowly build up the characters, The Avengers transcends the sum of its parts and becomes something more.

What’s That Got to Do With Parishes?

Parish ministries don’t exist in a vacuum. They share volunteers and participants, use common spaces and are (ideally) centered on the Eucharist. Parish ministries overlap and rub shoulders in a variety of ways. So why do we so often treat them as self-contained entities?

Like the MCU movies we should view parish ministries as part of a continuum — what we do in, say, a Bible study group should inform and be informed by how we train lectors. How we conduct funeral liturgies should jive with what we present in baptismal prep. Parishioners should be able to recognize the strands and threads that run through parish programs, helping them to draw their own connections and insights into their experience of the faith.

This approach recognizes the systematic nature of our faith: all that has been revealed by God has integrity. It does not self-contradict. There are common threads that run through Catholic teaching: the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the centrality of the person of Christ. These threads should be explicit and identifiable in how our parishes are run and in what they teach.

Of course this means that we have to plan our ministries, rather than offering them as one-shot programs, and help people to see the connections between different aspects of the faith. This means more work, but will bear more fruit in the end.

Do your parish ministries exist in a continuity, or are they isolated units? What common vision underlies the work your parish does?

Geek Sidebar: Yes, I know the picture above is inaccurate insofar as Wolverine and Spider-Man aren’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the picture was just too great to pass up.

Photo by Dunechaser/flickrCC