Lynn -- Taking the long view

As part of the Disciples in Mission renewal for Pastoral Center staff, Phase I pastors and collaborative staff members are invited to speak about their collaboratives at the Pastoral Center monthly staff meetings. In January, the guest speakers were Father Paul Ritt, pastor, and Donna Delahanty, director of ministries, from the Lynnfield collaborative. Earlier this month, Father Brian Flynn, pastor, and Christopher Carmody, director of ministries, from the Lynn Collaborative of Sacred Heart and St. Mary parishes were the presenters.

The Lynn Catholic Collaborative is a diverse community -- Sunday liturgy is offered in English, Haitian, and Congolese. There is a lot going on. Father Flynn repeated what is often heard from collaborative pastors. With more than one parish, they don't get to see their parishioners as much. This is a painful reality that each pastor works out in his own way. Father Flynn began by travelling between parishes each Sunday morning. He saw parishioners at both parishes, but only that -- saw. There was no time to chat because he was always on the move across town. He has, for now, settled on an alternating weekend schedule. It's not the perfect solution, but there really isn't a perfect solution.

Pastoral associate Fran Taylor is involved with the RCIA process and her experience reflects the flexibility needed in a collaborative. Originally, RCIA sessions were going to alternate locations -- one year at St. Mary's, the next, at Sacred Heart, but an abundance of blessings -- two large groups of candidates and catechumens, children and adults -- prompted a change in plans, and they remained at Sacred Heart. Each year they will assess their needs to see which site will work better. The blessings continue as Fran invites other adults to be part of the team, with the hope that they, "will fall in love with the process."

Chris Carmody, drawing on past experience, works to help establish solid programs that not only survive but will continue to flourish when there is a staffing change. Sometimes a parish program is built and sustained by one strong leader. By involving the collaborative leadership team and key volunteers in planning, Chris hopes to ensure longevity of parish activities, with the focus more on Christ and mission than on one personality.

The collaborative, established in June 2013, is now in the first year of implementing its Local Pastoral Plan, approved by Cardinal O'Malley in June 2015. In all that he does, Father Flynn keeps the long view in mind. He and his leadership team and councils have made some changes. Some have been welcome and wholeheartedly embraced, others were received less enthusiastically. Father Flynn knows well that the Church moves slowly and he insists that adjusting to change takes time -- not just weeks, months, or even years. He talks in terms of decades.

He recently reflected on how his perspective evolved.

"Initially, when the collaborative was first proposed and throughout pastor training, I thought, 'Oh, this sounds good. We're going to be able to do this. Now let's get going,' but then, you get into the collaborative and realize that there is still a lot of explaining and planning to do. Things that you thought would be easy weren't easy...And you found yourself saying, 'How is this going to work?' On day one, everything doesn't meld into place," he said.

In the beginning, "I thought I knew what being a collaborative meant, but then you hit the ground! In year two, we wrote our Local Plan. It was hard work, but it was good work. So, after two years, we know we're a collaborative, and what that means, and we have a plan."

Year three for Phase I collaboratives is about implementing their plans. "We thought we'd see results quicker, and the people thought we'd see results quicker." But Father Flynn is pleased that, "After 2-and-a-half years, we're starting to see some results." Father Flynn credits the staff and councils for the progress they have made, "We're so honest with ourselves. We're good at saying, 'We started X but we let it slide, we need to get back to X.'"

Father Flynn speaks with great respect and affection for long-time parishioners, "We're bringing about change. The long-time, faithful, parishioners who have stuck with the Church in its ups and downs, are the ones we're asking to make the change and it's difficult." Growing parishes, forming disciples, and seeing a significant increase in vocations to the priesthood are fruits of Disciples in Mission. This takes time, hard work, and lots of prayer.