MORE Pastoral Announcements
A quick overview of the diminishing number of priests reveals an aging Presbyterate which in many ways reflects the aging nature of parishioners. In 2014 we find the diocese served by 270 fewer full-time active diocesan priests than in 1970. We are also seriously aware of the number of our family members who have left our areas to follow the job market, and the changing attitudes toward faith that culturally inform our very busy families. Under the leadership of each recent Bishop, the planning process has moved forward. Bishop Harrison authorized the studies and commissions that began to plan diocesan life in this time. Bishop O’Keefe charged the Vicar of Parish Life and Worship to look toward the number of parishes needed to maintain the vitality of our faith communities. He also witnessed the declining number of priests as fewer priests served in parishes and in specialized ministries, particularly in Catholic Schools. Bishop Moynihan’s pastoral letter, “Equipping the Saints for the Work of Ministry” set the tone for the difficult task of realigning parishes and ministries. Bishop Cunningham, recognizing the impact of fewer pastors has challenged us anew to adapt to new parish structures, including further linkages and clusters, and new parish leadership styles. These styles are quickly transforming the ways that we look at our parishes and our diocese. These styles have already transformed the majority of the dioceses in the United States.
Pastoral Planning is on-going, life-long, and life-giving. At the beginning of the 20th century the planning efforts of dioceses studied the challenges of the huge increase of European immigrants coming to the USA. In the middle of the 20th century, diocesan efforts responded to the post-WWII ‘baby boom” and the rapidly expanding suburbs. In the late 20th century and now, planning efforts continue to focus on sustaining evolving parishes, an increase in Spanish speakers, and new immigrants from all over the world. A parish is created to serve all of those who live within the borders given to it by the bishop. The pastoral council assists the pastor and pastoral leaders in giving vision and direction to the parish and focusing its time, talent, and treasure to build the kingdom of God in its area. This is planning for the full, conscious, active discipleship of all of the people of God. This process is on-going, life-long, and life-giving.
What is a Pastoral Care Area (PCA)? A pastoral care area is a grouping of geographically related parishes collaborating together in developing commons strategies, ministerial programs, and mutual assistance for the future. Pastoral Care areas encourage inter-parish cooperation, and, in some cases, share the time and talents of special programs or administrative staff. The diocesan direction indicates that pastors, parish lay trustees, and the two key members of the pastoral council of active parishes represent their parish at PCA meetings. These PCA representatives are free to bring the ideas and thoughts of the parishioners, program leaders and staff of their parishes. In diocesan-wide consultations these leaders provide information and their local wisdom to the Bishop and his College of Consultors for their discernment for the future of the diocese. The membership of parishes in each PCA has been collaboratively developed. The PCA structure is based on a model dialogue originally developed by Bishop Costello.
“Seeing Natural Bridges: A Collaborative Visioning Process” provided a context for the work of the PCA’s in autumn 2013. The process asked the representatives in each PCA to meet four times to consider 1) the manner in which parishes collaborate with each other and to develop a joint plan for evangelization in their area; 2) to acknowledge the mutual need for a change in Mass schedules to reflect the capacity of churches and the number of people at weekend Masses. The second session also considered concrete, specific ways for building their own parish identity and the mutual identity of the parishes in the PCA. 3) The diminishing number of priests and the linking and clustering of parishes will require planning for the selection, training and placing of new types of parish staff members and leadership. PCAs were invited to envision what parish and cluster staff might look at in their area, and to prepare for collaborating now for the sake of the future. 4) Representatives enjoyed a hearty conversation about parish resources (spiritual, financial, volunteer, and personnel) and what steps that they might take to make the local vision possible. This conversation particularly sought to engage lay parish leaders in naming the future.
Discerning and applying the lessons learned is a role that belongs to the Bishop. Among his senior advisors, we find the “College of Consultors.” The Consultors are also members of the Diocesan Priests’ (Presbyteral) Council. The Consultors are composed of the Diocesan and Regional Vicars and Chairman of the Priests’ Council. They will meet with and assist the bishop by receiving the PCA recommendations that are channeled to them by the Vicar for Parishes and the Planning Office. This group discerns and deliberates recommendations to the Bishop for future action in each area.
Their work is enhanced by the knowledge of the six regional vicars who live and work in the area of the diocese entrusted to their leadership. The regional vicars have specialized knowledge that results from their daily contact with pastors and parishioners. The College will offer specific recommendations to the Bishop about how to incorporate the wisdom drawn from the process and to apply it. These recommendations will be shared with the other members of the Presbyteral Council, and the bishop reaches his prayerful decisions about how to best serve the people of the diocese.Week 8
What expectations should we have about the October 2014 Announcements? Pastoral Planning is on-going, life-long, and life-giving. The goal of Bishop Cunningham’s announcements will be to assure all parishioners that we are mindful that they have access to dynamic, vital faith communities that are structured in a manner that will serve all of the people of our counties. He hopes that each parishioner will come to understand and to take a role within the life of the parish as the diocesan family responds its changing needs and shifting pattern of human and other resources. When one considers all of the people of the diocese, we recall, that together, we are the local Church known by our Gospel based care for one another and the ways that we reach out to others in Christ. As our diocesan mission statement invites: “The Faith: know it , live it, share it.”Week 9
What is next? As we move into year thirty-five of the current planning process, our next objectives will be to prepare parishes to prepare for and implement strategies for our evolving situation. The announcements will involve some change. As we move forward the linkages and clustering of parishes will become more usual. PCA parishes will be deeply engaged in collaboration. Planning efforts after the 2014 announcements will focus on equipping PCA priests and leaders with the tools needed for the world of deep collaboration among kindred parishes. This preparation will ease the adjustments, but will not eliminate the challenges. Our diocesan Church will continue to evolve. There is an old planning axiom that says, ‘We plan, God laughs.’ It may be time of learning to laugh with and grow to together in our relationship God, who provides us with a future full of hope.