19 words... or more

Members of Phase II Collaboratives gathered recently for training for parish councils, finance councils, school boards, and invited parishioners. At the beginning of the day, participants were asked to define a collaborative. It would seem obvious that parishioners in the 71 parishes currently in 32 collaboratives, plus faithful readers of The Pilot, and other interested and informed Catholics, could quickly come up with the "official" definition.

The Disciples in Mission website states: "A Collaborative is a grouping of one, two, or three Parishes that work together for the goal of evangelization." Short and to the point; 19 words sum it up. Or is there more to it?

Working in groups, their definitions come from their experience of living and operating as collaboratives for the past five months and responses shed light on this new model of leadership. Certain themes are familiar: working together, common goals, building the Church, and, of course, evangelization. But there were other, important, insights.

The Abington-Whitman Collaborative wrote that a collaborative is: "a grouping of one, two, or more parishes/ communities for the purpose of living and giving the message of Jesus to itself, so that -- once received -- all the individuals can share that same message and excitement to: Family, Friends, and Neighbors -- so that they will have a personal relationship with Jesus in community." These folks, like others present that Saturday, realized that the work of evangelization must begin with each of us -- "living ...the message of Jesus..." -- before we can go out and make disciples.

The Natick contingent was succinct: "A collaborative is a coming together for a common cause while retaining their individuality and using it as an opportunity to learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses." They highlight important points: "common cause" and "retaining their individuality." Each parish maintains its own identity; this is not a merger! Our common cause, our goal, is to help people deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ, but this has to begin with each person, individually. Even as collaboratives grapple with a leaky roof, budget troubles, or staffing issues, in the midst of the real, serious, temporal concerns, the goal of growing closer to Christ cannot be put on hold.

The Acton/Stow and Littleton/Westfield collaboratives echoed this. They worked together -- humbly referring to their group as the Super Collaborative: "A collaborative is a temporary grouping of parishes that maintain their identity and assets/finances and is a means to evangelize the faith to grow membership of the Church." This definition introduces a new word: temporary. We know well that the Church moves slowly so the word "temporary" is nuanced, but a fundamental point of Disciples in Mission, is that if each person attends to his/her personal relationship with Jesus, evangelization will follow and will bear fruit. In addition to a growing membership, there will be an increase in vocations to the priesthood making it possible, once again, for each parish to have its own pastor.

St. Jude, Norfolk and St. Edward, Medfield pointed out that a collaborative must be "A unified team working towards common goals that is open to sharing through discussion and listening that ultimately leads to action." Growing the Church requires discussion, listening, and action. This happens when there is a strong foundation of personal prayer and participation in the sacramental life of the Church.

Another group offered: "Coming together to build off each while maintaining identity but sharing resources, a common desire, mission, charism, while being flexible and lacking silos." Sharing resources and eliminating the silo, insular, model of ministry will go a long way toward establishing effective, stable centers of evangelization.

Sharon/Walpole, hosts of this training session, held at St. Mary Parish, Walpole, also made some salient points. This collaborative of three parishes, across two towns gets the final word: "A community of parishes brought together to labor towards building and strengthening the greater Church of the future through new evangelization." So many significant thoughts here! Labor -- yes, the work of being in a collaborative is hard work, but with hope implicit, this collaborative points out the impact of the new evangelization -- building and strengthening the Church.

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