Checking in

If anyone thinks that only endings and goodbyes are difficult, talk with Phase II pastors. Beginnings can be hard as well. "Expect the unexpected" could be the rule of the day.

Both time and effort were spent in preparation for the June 3 start of the 20 Phase II collaboratives. Pastors went through almost two full weeks of training, studying all sorts of information about their new parishes and hearing about the support services that are available from Pastoral Center offices and agencies. Sometimes what is on paper looks different when seen up close, in real life.

Although the 43 Phase II parishes are diverse in size and setting, a random and completely unscientific sampling of a few pastors shows some consistency in experiences as we approach week three of Phase II. The questions posed: How do expectations and reality match? Have there been any surprises -- good or not so good? Concerns? Blessings?

When starting something new, a good rule of thumb suggests that a slow waltz to "Getting to Know You" is a safe way to proceed. But sometimes circumstances dictate another tune and another tempo. Sometimes changes are needed sooner rather than later. Change is a loaded word. Welcoming a new pastor is already a big change. The new pastor's concern is that parishioners will understand if a few modifications are needed quickly, as the collaborative gets up and running.

One pastor noted that each parish has different ways of doing things. He was quick to add, "not better or worse, but different AND different from how I had done things in the past." There is adjustment all around and that can take time.

Even though a parish is about spiritual things, things of the soul, such as prayer, sacraments, relationship with Jesus, community, discipleship, evangelization -- to name a few -- the financial aspect of running a parish, or two, or three, is real and serious. Financial and logistical challenges are genuine and need to be addressed. And, as energizing as it is to be part of a new model of parish leadership, pastors are realistic and express concern about managing multiple parishes. As one said simply, "It's a lot." These are a few of the reality checks. But reality is not without grace.

Universally, the Phase II pastors interviewed were excited to meet the people of the parishes. They look forward to getting to know the people and discover the character and charism unique to each parish. One pastor mentioned that he was really looking forward to this opportunity to do something new and minister to a new parish, hastily adding that he loved the parish he left and had been happy there. Another pastor mentioned the blessing of being with people with diverse opinions, who, at the same time, are open to working through the issues and challenges they face, together. Pastors who are fortunate to have a parochial vicar assigned to the collaboratives also mentioned that these men are a great blessing.

Phase II is not even one month old. In human development terms a one month old infant isn't able to sit up, roll over, or eat solid food! But by the first birthday, the baby is no longer an infant and, on average, is walking on his own. As Phase II collaboratives work through these first weeks and months, they can look to their older siblings -- the 12 Phase I collaboratives. There are still challenges and struggles, but even in the midst of these there is story upon story of good things happening.

One year into Disciples in Mission, the Cranberry Collaborative: Middleborough, Lakeville, Rochester celebrated their first anniversary last week. They welcomed Cardinal Seán O'Malley who celebrated Mass at Sacred Heart Church and blessed St. Joseph House where some collaborative offices and meeting spaces are located. In the collaborative bulletin, Father John Sheridan, pastor, wrote: "We have come so far so quickly and yet I know we've just begun -- I look ahead eagerly to how God will continue to direct our work."

Collaboration can be hard but no one is asked to do it alone. In fact, it can't be done alone -- that's the point! Parishes are asked to come together and work together toward a shared goal: helping people grow in deeper communion with Jesus Christ and building up his Church here in Boston. We pray for each other and the Church.

Susan Abbott is Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.