Collaboration or merger?

An interesting conversation came up at a recent training session for pastors of Phase III collaboratives: If we -- parishes in the collaborative -- will be doing so many things together, why is this called collaboration and not merger? Good question.

Of the 71 parishes currently in collaboratives, some have combined faith formation programs, many offered one Lenten Mission for all parishes in the collaborative, and still more have centralized parish offices and staff to one location. As one pastor commented, "We have one confirmation and one triduum, that sounds like a merger." It may, but it isn't.

The archdiocese has had parish mergers. In past years, parishes, usually two, joined together to form one worshipping community of faith. Like some modern marriages, there are instances where the two merged parishes take on the hyphenated name of both parishes. The analogy to marriage is reinforced by Merriam-Webster's definition of merge: "to cause (two or more things...) to come together and become one thing: to join or unite (one thing) with another." St. X Parish and St. Y Parish become St. X-St. Y Parish (singular, not parishes, plural) and liturgies take place at the former St. Y church.

Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the first definition of collaborate as: "to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something." This definition describes well what the pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission, is all about. A review of Disciples in Mission goals might be helpful here. The plan is working toward making every collaborative a center of the new evangelization -- a place where people encounter Jesus Christ in word and sacrament, and through the parish community. With a strong pastor, committed collaborative leadership team, energized parishioners, and support from archdiocesan offices, the parishes in the collaborative will become stronger, more stable, more intentional in their efforts to bring back those who have fallen away, and more effective in assisting people to grow spiritually. When this happens, the Church will grow too, and from that will flow a richness of vocations. In a nutshell, the pastoral plan, with God's grace, will allow parishes in the collaborative to "stabilize in order to evangelize." Collaboration calls for a new model of leadership but, as a Phase I pastor noted, our beliefs have not changed -- our dogma and doctrine, Scripture and Tradition -- are the same. We still proclaim Jesus Christ -- yesterday, today, and forever.

In light of the hard, exhausting work and the detours, potholes, and bumps in the road of pastoral planning, it may sound like pie in the sky to think this right now, but if the archdiocese and the collaboratives can achieve these goals, most especially encouraging vocations to the priesthood, eventually the collaboratives will dissolve and each parish will return to being a single parish with its own pastor. To some, this prospect sounds beyond ridiculous because stories of struggles and difficulties spread much more quickly than stories of renewal and success. And this won't happen tomorrow, or next year, but, maybe, in 30 years. The plan has immediate goals, but also takes the long view. Our Church is two millennia old. There's no denying, it has been very rough going in some places, but a careful reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters to the early Church clearly shows that 2,000 years ago fewer did more with less. Twelve men and devoted disciples spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to most of the then-known world with no technology or efficient modes of transportation. Prayer and hard work, hope and joy, can bear good fruit.

Two things we hear over and over in Scripture: "With God all things and possible," and "Do not be afraid." As the Archdiocese of Boston navigates the unchartered waters of collaboration, we take heart in these words of blessed assurance.