“Area Catholic Communities.” That is what our Diocesan Planning Office has decided to call our new ‘draft’ arrangement of parish groupings which will help prepare us to function for the next ten years. With the shortfall in vocations and a larger number of retirements of priests coming over the next 3 years, we need to plan pro-actively on how best to serve and administrate all the parishes in our diocese for years to come. For the next few weeks I would like to present a series of articles explaining in more detail what this new draft is all about, our bishop’s vision and values, and how we might best envision the new community with St. Peter and St. Paul.
Last month at our Arrowwood Conference we had an excellent gathering with our bishop, priests, and deacons to discuss both the blessings and challenges of the first ‘draft’ of the ‘New Plan.” This draft was made in response to all the input from each parish in our diocese at our “Parish Hall Meetings” held last Spring. Many of you were there. Some of the strengths of the new plan i.e. “Area Catholic Communities” will be: the sharing of resources and buildings across parish lines, a bigger sense of Church, stronger Faith Formation programs and better services, fuller and more vibrant liturgies, especially on big church feasts, and the elimination of replication along with development of more lay leadership. Some of the challenges of the new plan will be: maintaining parish identity and cultures, creating a shared vision and unity, a lack of collaboration and resistance on the part of some, determining Mass schedules within a given area, streamlining parish staffs, sharing pastors/deacons and clergy availability, and driving distances between parishes. One question that was asked is “How far are you willing to drive to a High School sporting event or to the nearest Walmart?” This might be a good measure of how far people should be able to travel. We were told that aggressive pushing for unity equals more aggressive negatively, and yet too much care for diversity equals disgruntled sense of unity. We should consider our individual parishes and a, “community within a Community.” People don’t mind change, but they do mind being changed! And yet as Matthew Kelly once said, “An organization that thinks more about its past than its future is dying.” We here at St. Peter and St. Paul don’t want to do that. So the challenge will be to ‘lead with kindness.’ If handled well, things will go more smoothly, but one thing is for sure, “Things are going to change!”
Bishop Kettler has asked each pastor to sit down with all their staff and separately with members of their Parish Councils to get their feedback on this first draft. These responses are then to be sent to the Planning Office for review before the final version is put out. Bishop Kettler has asked that this be done before Thanksgiving. At this time, I have already met with our staff and both Parish Councils, gotten their feedback and have submitted this to the Planning Office. We will see what happens next.
When it comes to parish planning there are ‘pioneers’ and there are ‘settlers.’ The ‘pioneers’ will want to get things done, the sooner the better, while the ‘settlers’ will want to keep things as they are always. I think the answer is somewhere in between. Next week, I would like explain how best we can lead change in positive ways. These are exciting and yet challenging times….and we all have a part to play in it both in spiritual and engaging ways!