Challenged yet greatly blessed

During these last weeks of the Easter Season, the Scriptures being read at Mass reflect on the different activities of the disciples, especially of Peter, Paul and Barnabas. They were untiring in their preaching and teaching about Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we want to focus only on the successes and overlook the challenges they faced in bringing people to faith in Christ. When we listen closely to the accounts of their experiences we see that they suffered rejection, had attempts made on their lives, and were jailed because they would not stop teaching about Jesus! Yet, in spite of facing those many challenges, these disciples only grew more determined in their preaching and ministering. Their success bore fruit because of their prayer and hard work.

There are several similarities between the experiences of the first disciples and those implementing their local pastoral plans. Fortunately, no one has been stoned or physically beaten, and the challenges these leadership teams are encountering have not stopped them from engaging in the process of evangelization. Those who are laboring in the collaboratives, implementing Disciples in Mission, are present-day disciples passing on the faith to people of our time. Despite the challenges they face, they work tirelessly to bring people into a deeper relationship with Christ and to make disciples.

Recently, the Offices of Pastoral Planning and Pastoral Support and Training hosted a meeting for those in leadership positions in Phase I and Phase II collaboratives. While Phase I collaboratives are completing the second year of implementation of their local pastoral plans, the gathering provided a good opportunity for them to share their experience of how the implementation of their plans is proceeding. The discussion at that meeting was honest and sincere. When asked to share what have been the greatest blessings and challenges, the responses were enthusiastic and diverse.

In collaboratives that have moved all the staff from multiple locations to one collaborative office there was some initial anxiety and objections from both staff and parishioners. Once the move was completed though, the staff described their relationships to be more productive and more collaborative. They no longer described the combining of offices as a challenge but instead the staff saw this move as a blessing. There are other Phase I collaboratives in which such a move was not possible. In some instances, the geographic distance made it difficult. In others, where one parish was smaller than the other, keeping both offices has helped parishioners believe that the smaller parish was not going to be closed and that they were not going to be swallowed up by the larger parish. From the sharing it was realized that "one size does not fit all."

Another lesson that was shared is the importance of knowing and honoring the culture of the parishes. That might seem like an obvious thing to consider. Yet all of the Phase I and II collaboratives agree, that honoring the identity and culture of each parish, as well as the different expressions of that culture, are critical to this process. When this is done, it can bring about deeper understanding and appreciation among parishioners and will hopefully make them effective evangelizers.

Disciples in Mission is about stabilizing in order to evangelize. Another challenge that almost every collaborative struggles with is limited resources. Whether it is limited finances, a smaller than needed staff or a smaller than needed pool of volunteers, these pastors and staffs are facing these obstacles and working tirelessly to resolve these concerns. They are not letting these restraints halt the work of evangelization and commend them for all they are doing!

Everyone agreed that while the best approach is a slow, deliberate pace of implementation, everyone wants to see measurable results from their efforts. Whether a collaborative is just starting or if they are in the midst of implementing their local pastoral plan, it is essential to go at the tasks with patience and flexibility. It is natural to want immediate success but even the first disciples faced daily challenges. They stayed the course and we are the recipients of their good efforts. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is guiding the good work in these collaboratives. By persevering in the work of evangelization and remaining faithful to the vision of Disciples in Mission, we too, will see the good fruits of our labors.