The Holy Spirit at work

Phase III is seven months old and well into the process of forming and preparing staffs and councils for the work of evangelization and collaboration. Phase III is the most diverse of all the groups in Disciples in Mission. It has urban, suburban and rural parishes in the mix; it is the most ethnically diverse, as well. Within these collaborative parishes are significant Haitian, Cape Verdean, Vietnamese, and Hispanic communities.

Formation and preparation means workshops -- hours and hours of workshops: Forming Disciples in Mission, Forming Leaders for Mission, and Forming Collaboratives for Mission.

Forming Leaders for Mission took place on the Saturday of the Presidents Day holiday weekend. The area was bracing for cold like we hadn't seen in decades. Denise Ehlen, leadership consultant from the Catholic Leadership Institute, arrived at the Pastoral Center at 7 a.m. to set up for her presentation and lead the discussion about collaborative leadership. The temperature outside was 20 degrees and we were assured by meteorologists that this was the warmest it would be until Monday -- the temperature dropped as quickly as the wind velocity rose. Would anyone venture forth to spend a full day at the Pastoral Center? Yes. They came from Dorchester, Plainville, Somerville, Wellesley, Weymouth, Wrentham, and nearby Braintree. Salem, Phase I, and Blue Hills Collaborative (Hyde Park, Milton, Readville) Phase II, were also represented. More than 60 people -- hardy, dedicated parishioners, staff, council members, and clergy came to learn more about leadership and share their hopes and concerns.

Denise introduced the first exercise of the day -- "What is a collaborative anyway?" -- by inviting participants to "Look at the slice of the Kingdom that you're asked to serve." She said, "No other diocese I work with is focusing so much on growth. You are going to be a piece of the history of Boston." Sister Patricia Boyle, CSJ, associate director of the Pastoral Planning Office reminded the group that this is a new model of leadership but emphasized, "Nothing about our faith is changing." Attendees were seated by collaborative and worked together to describe a collaborative, name the gifts of forming a collaborative, and the challenges of this new structure for ministry. Their answers, on large sheets of newsprint, were posted on the walls of the auditorium and someone from each collaborative reported on her or his table's responses.

By now, most people easily can define a collaborative: "a grouping of one, two, or three parishes working together for the goal of evangelization," but last Saturday's group eloquently expanded the definition:

-- A holy sharing, like a marriage

-- A movement of the Holy Spirit

-- Sharing a mission and resources

-- We are like sisters, not just members of one parish, we mention both parishes because we -- don't want to forget our sister. We have to live with our sister!

Next, participants named the gifts of forming a collaborative:

-- An opportunity for new hope, ideas, friends... It's all of us, not just one of us

-- Meeting new people; new programs open to all

-- Fresh perspective

-- Optimal use of parishioners' strengths

-- Taking the "best of both" for a stronger, unified Church

-- We're in the same boat -- with Jesus; prayerful openness to change

-- Broaden horizons

-- Energizing force; opportunity to learn from each other

-- Opportunity for new things, a clean slate

In listing the gifts, certain words kept popping up: hope, sharing, and new. The final question brought folks back to the harsh reality that this is hard work.

What is challenging about forming this new structure for ministry?

-- Many different ideas

-- Becoming a united group

-- Communicating the vision to all

-- Learning to live together with three different languages

-- Breaking down barriers

-- If we all do our own thing, each rowing in different directions, we'll just go around in circles!

-- Fear of the unknown

-- Holding on to the past

-- Being human!

-- Negative attitude; mistrust

-- Resistance to change

-- Concerns about loss of parish identity

-- Territorialism

-- Discerning role of the councils

The list of challenges is the longest. These folks understand what lies ahead, there will be ups and downs. However, if they remember their hopes and gifts, and bring the challenges to prayer, with God's grace their parishes and collaboratives will become even more vibrant centers of faith and evangelization. It was cold outside, but the fire of Holy Spirit burned brightly at this workshop.