Co-Workers conference

Last Friday, more than 150 people gathered at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish, Newton, for the eighth annual Co-Workers in the Vineyard Conference. This conference, born out of the U.S. bishops' document on lay ecclesial ministry, is open to all, but focuses on the work of clergy and professional staff in the parish. Several pastors came with their entire parish staff. Sister Patricia Boyle, CSJ, associate director of the Office of Pastoral Planning gave a brief update on the implementation of the pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission, using the Gospel of the day (John 21:1-14) as her context:

Today's Gospel presents an interesting story. Jesus comes to the shore and speaks to the fishermen about their catch. As we know, their night's labors had left them with empty nets.

Jesus tells them to cast their nets to a different side of the boat. Do something different! If what you had been doing isn't working -- then do something different.

The Archdiocese of Boston is being called by Cardinal Sean to do something different. Some of what we have been doing continues to draw people to Christ and some of what we have been doing has not. Pastoral Planning challenges us to cast our nets to the other side of the boat. Doing so, takes courage and boldness but the results can be astonishing!

Let me share with you some examples of the ways collaboratives have taken the risk to cast their nets differently.

One collaborative had a great deal of difficulty providing good financial reports to the parishioners, but with the support of the archdiocesan human resources department was able to hire a finance and operations manager. That person has restored transparency and parishioners have responded positively. This action has also led to a slight increase in giving.

Another collaborative posts a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel on their website, offering reflection questions to help people grow in their faith. Additionally, they invite three or four parishioners to write a reflection in response to those questions.

Cast your nets to the other side....

A Phase One collaborative is working to create new opportunities for children to grow in their faith. That collaborative is developing an "after school program" with a faith based approach.

Another collaborative is putting extraordinary time and effort into one of their priorities in the local pastoral plan to improve the Sunday worship experience by enhancing the quality of the homilies, the music and the hospitality at every Mass.

Cast your nets to the other side....

Practically every collaborative in Phase One and almost half of the Phase Two collaboratives have developed new and creative websites that are attractive, inviting and informative. These new collaborative websites reflect that the parishes are seriously engaged in the work of evangelization.

Collaborative staffs are working together at one site, building relationships, and creating a unified approach around the mission in their ministry.

Cast your nets to the other side...

Two collaboratives that are geographically close to one another have established one residence for the priests of those two collaboratives (2 parishes in each collaborative with a total of 4 priests). This builds community among the priests giving them time for meals together, times for common prayer and greater opportunities for sharing ideas.

In writing their local pastoral plans, the Phase One collaboratives have articulated particular values that will guide their work. Some of the virtues they will operate out of are:

-- Hopefulness that can overcome fears and doubts;

-- Courage even when you don't know the outcome;

-- Unity that is centered on Christ's vision -- that all may be one;

-- Christ-like love that respects the dignity of each person -- and is open/ hospitable to all.

Cast your nets to the other side....

These are just some of the bold and courageous ways the leadership in the collaboratives are responding to Jesus' call. There is nothing to stop you from doing the same in your parishes -- whether you are in a collaborative or are awaiting your turn. Jesus promises to go before us -- so what are you waiting for? -- cast your nets to the other side!