Review of the first week of training showed a mix of reality and hope. The reality of taking on this huge task is really challenging.
Pastors returned to the Pastoral Center last week to continue their preparation for the June start of Phase III collaboratives. The focus this time was on leadership. Dan Cellucci and Lucille Smith from the Catholic Leadership Institute facilitated the sessions. Dan said that in his work with dioceses across the country, "Everyone is watching Boston. You're doing something different... Boston is making an unparalleled investment in people."
Review of the first week of training showed a mix of reality and hope. The reality of taking on this huge task is really challenging. When asked to specify these challenges, one priest answered -- seemingly for the whole group -- "All of it!" On the other hand, there was both comfort and hope in the good attitude and camaraderie among those in the room, the awareness of mutual support, and the knowledge that the staff of Archdiocesan Pastoral Center is committed to assisting them: "We're not alone;" "...others have done this before us"; "We're all learning as we go -- the Pastoral Center and us."
The first session looked at transition and change. There is no doubt that the collaborative model of leadership involves change. And change can be hard. The depressing statistics on weekly Mass attendance are well known. One pastor reported that when asked why we have to change, he responds, "We're dying, we have to change." While this statement seems harsh, it also appears that the hard work and Herculean efforts occurring now in so many parishes haven't turned the tide.
Mid-afternoon, Bishop Arthur Kennedy, episcopal vicar for the New Evangelization greeted the group. Referencing the re-organization of the Faith Formation and Evangelization Secretariat, he explained, "We've tried to do here at the Pastoral Center what we've asked the collaboratives to do -- reorganize for evangelization." Bishop Kennedy closed his remarks by thanking the priests, "It is wonderful to work with you and we pray for you."
Phase I and II pastors Father Dan Riley, Father Ron Coyne, Father James Mahoney, and Father Michael Medas, joined the group for a panel discussion. Their experiences and advice varied but all agreed on basic facts: collaboration is very hard work, not always smooth sailing, unpredictable, and very exciting. Key to collaborative pastoring is prayer. The remarks of one pastor were shared by all: "Be faithful to your prayer." Another went a step further, "increase your prayer time."
More hard earned advice was imparted:
"Communicate, communicate, communicate with your people!"; "People will be receptive if you lay it all out from the beginning."; "People want to know that their concerns are heard."; "Learn the history of each parish and emphasize their strengths."; "Communication among the staff is essential. We know each other (now) and we like each other."; "Be sure to include the school principal in staff meetings."; "You can make it! Follow the plan... use the resources from the archdiocese and CLI. Don't try to do it on your own."; "It takes time ... you don't have to get everything done the first 3 months. Be patient and keep parishioners informed."
And some challenges:
"Learning to say No."; "being assertive and holding the line."; "getting to know people."; "it's difficult to hear negative comments and disappointment. It isn't you they want to stop, it's change, but it still hurts."
Perhaps the greatest sign of hope was the panel's response when asked: What has been an unexpected joy? Are you happy?
"I love what I'm doing now but it is hectic, overwhelming, inundated, but I'm happy."; "Joy in seeing people getting along. Happy? Yes!"; "You'll be challenged beyond what you can imagine but you'll be happy."; "I've never learned so much."; "Overwhelming acceptance and excitement of the people -- they are really on board!"; "Seeing the number of people previously not involved stepping forward to help."
Pastors are grateful for the flexibility of implementing "Disciples in Mission." One participant commented, "there is great follow up and care (from the archdiocese)."
Phase III pastors had many questions and after pausing for Evening Prayer, conversation continued at dinner.
Michael Lavigne of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support, Denise McKinnon-Biernat of Parish Financial Services, and Jim DiFrancesco of Human Resources held participants' attention after dinner with a discussion of models of leadership to support a collaborative and common staffing challenges.
The session on Friday began with prayerful reflection on Scripture. One priest remarked, "God takes what we have and blesses it...the longer we're at this, the less confidence we have in ourselves and the more confidence we have in God." Practical presentations on technology and finances, and small group examination of some collaboratives completed the day.
Father Dan Hennessey, Archdiocesan Vocations Director, assured the group of his assistance for the vocations work that Cardinal Sean O'Malley is asking each collaborative to make a priority, and, wrapping things up, Father Paul Soper, Director of the Pastoral Planning Office advised, "Be bold." Referring to Pastoral Center support he said, "We've got your back."
Priest participants get the last word: "Profound appreciation for the support from the archdiocese."; "I appreciate being with my brother priests, the mutual respect and humor."; "This is daunting but encouraging."; "I have a greater appreciation for life beyond what I've known -- excited but challenged."; "...felt some empowerment to think outside the box a bit more."; and regarding transitions and managing change, one priest said that he got the message about being bold, but, "we have to factor in heaping tablespoons of humility.... All has to be balanced and done lovingly and Christ-like. We're the Body of Christ." Amen.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.