No writer's block here

Fall brings cool weather, colorful displays of changing leaves, and ... local pastoral plan writing. During the summer, Phase II parishes worked on drafts of their local pastoral plans preparing for the Dec. 1 submission deadline. The writing process expands to monthly meetings with a consultant from the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), and consultants from archdiocesan offices -- Evangelization, Pastoral Planning, Financial Services, Real Estate, and Human Resources -- joining the writing teams.

Recently, the Blue Hills Collaborative of Most Precious Blood Parish in Hyde Park, St. Ann Parish in Readville, and St. Pius X Parish in Milton met along with the Dorchester collaborative of St. Ann Parish and St. Brendan Parish, each working on their own local pastoral plans. These are evening meetings and they are long, 6 to 9 p.m. Most members of the writing teams are coming from a full day of work in the home or their jobs outside the home. They may arrive tired, but it doesn't take long for the energy and enthusiasm in the room to lift and engage everyone.

Sister Ellen Doyle, OSU from CLI guided discussion and offered feedback on the components that both teams have completed. The local pastoral plan has several pieces. The main body of the plan consists of three or more priorities. A rationale is given for why each priority has been selected, and goals are spelled out to insure that the priority is met. The beginning of the plan provides the foundation. Here, the collaborative states their purpose, answering the question "Why do we exist?" and they present their vision: "Where do we hope to be in three years?"

While it may seem obvious that every parish and Catholic institution exists to bring people closer to God, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, collaboratives articulate this over-arching purpose in different ways: "The purpose of the St. Ann-St. Brendan Collaborative is to build a culture of discipleship in which people come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ." The vision of the Blue Hills Collaborative is "Our community will be fully engaged individually and collectively in experiencing and modeling the joy of a life centered in Christ. Our pews and ministries will be overflowing, our properties will sparkle, and our people will be beacons of hope and love." Both of these are draft statements, subject to revision and fine-tuning, but even in their draft form, they give evidence of communities of faithful disciples, eager to share their faith.

During the three hour session, Sister Ellen moved between the collaborative writing teams, available to clarify questions and offer assistance if a team seemed stalled on a particular point. Commenting on the vision statement, she said that the key question is, "Does it touch your heart?" And she reminded the groups that it's not their vision, "It's really God's. We're just stewards of it." As groups were fine-tuning their vision statements, Sister Ellen advised, "It's not what the vision is, it's what the vison does" that will indicate if they have been successful.

St. Ann-St. Brendan Collaborative has their purpose, vision, and values statements drafted. Temporary administrator Father Tom Macdonald says that they are "pushing the pause button" on their plan writing work for now, while they await the appointment of their new pastor. When he arrives, writing will resume and they will move on to priorities and goals. Father Macdonald is pleased with the progress they have made, calling it "remarkable" that they have come this far during their period of transition.

These two collaboratives, combined, are composed of five parishes and all five parishes are represented on the writing teams. It is clear that they take their work seriously. They have been generous with their time and talent, giving evidence of their love for their parish and their hope for their collaborative. Father Ron Coyne, pastor of the Blue Hills Collaborative, commenting on their writing team, said, "Their investment is above and beyond -- I don't think the average parishioner realizes the investment of time these folks are giving."

It was a long and productive night. People lingered after closing prayer to make sure that they were in agreement as to the next steps. There will be emails flying back and forth and possibly a meeting or two before the next meeting with the consultants. Father Macdonald's closing prayer was succinct, heartfelt, and right on target. He prayed that God will "strengthen our parish families in faith, hope, and love."

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