Much ado about... something exciting: local pastoral plans

They're here: Collaborative Local Pastoral Plans! (Available at Almost two years in the making, this long, hard, process may have seemed a bit like the Never Ending Story. And, in a real way, the local pastoral plan is the never ending story. Approval is not the end, it's just the beginning. Now, the plans are being implemented. Local plans cannot sit on the shelf -- they are living documents that have priorities and measurable goals meant to be lived out over a three-year period. Parish finance councils, collaborative pastoral councils, staffs, and leadership teams will monitor progress and report, in an appropriate manner, to parishioners.

Writing the local pastoral plan, a plan that is unique to each collaborative, was not meant to be an exercise in wishful thinking -- although dreaming is an important part of the process. Training sessions at all levels -- clergy, councils, staffs, and parishioners -- include the question, "What would you do in your parish if you knew you couldn't fail?" Wonderful suggestions come from this assignment, but the hard work of articulating priorities and goals follows.

Phase I collaboratives submitted drafts of their plans to Cardinal Sean in December and began working on the final version at the beginning of the year -- yes, the winter that brought record-breaking snow. These folks are not only pioneers, but by meeting the June deadline for the cardinal's approval of final plans, they show themselves to be heroic and of sturdy stock. Each collaborative was asked to name at least three priorities, one priority addressing the need to foster vocations to the diocesan priesthood. The plans also state the collaborative purpose or mission, their values, and the vision that the collaborative is striving to achieve. Within these categories, there is great variety. Even where several collaboratives name the same priority, their strategies are different, reflecting their local context. Many local plans took inspiration from Pope Francs' "The Joy of the Gospel."

The mission and purpose of a collaborative or a parish may seem obvious. It is a place of encounter with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, prayer and liturgical celebration, community, formation, charity, good works, and love. (Culled from the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," 2179)

The Beverly Collaborative Purpose statement begins with a quote from Cardinal O'Malley's Pastoral, "A New Pentecost": "The Church exists to evangelize, to share the Good News with all people." It continues, "We come together as Collaborative Parishes, grounded and united in our love of Jesus Christ, to better identify and utilize our gifts, given by God, for our individual and communal calling in the New Evangelization."

The Billerica Collaborative writes, "The purpose of the Catholic Community of Billerica is to use our love of God and welcoming spirit, to lead all people to grow in love of Christ and His Church."

These statements do not introduce ground-breaking ideas, and some readers might be unimpressed. But thinking about and praying over how to say something that seems so obvious, can bear good fruit. Every word is examined and tested. There is something powerful about writing it down, publishing it for all to see, and keeping it at the forefront of the collaborative's mind. These collaboratives have taken to heart Cardinal Sean's instruction that this cannot be "business as usual."

Clergy and parish staffs across the archdiocese work with great dedication to help parishioners grow in their relationship with the Lord. Disciples in Mission goes a step further. Not asking for more programs -- or fewer programs -- it asks that whatever is done, should be done through the lens of evangelization. The Salem Collaborative takes this so seriously that their local plan directs a staff member to ask at every staff meeting: "How will this (agenda item) help or hinder bringing home the disconnected?"

A goal of Disciples in Mission is to make every parish a strong, stable, intentional, and effective center of the new evangelization. Note the word "intentional." Discussing goals, priorities, mission, purpose, and vision -- which is what writing teams, staffs, councils, and parishioners did -- helps identify areas that collaborative parishes really want to, and need to, focus on. It's not rocket science, but it is hard work. These plans are rooted in the faith of the Catholic Church, written in hope, and by God's grace, will be implemented with love. More to come.