The purpose statement in the local pastoral plan of the tri-parish collaborative of St. Thomas Aquinas and Our Lady of Lourdes, Jamaica Plain, and St. Mary of the Angels, Roxbury reads: "Called together by the Good Shepherd into multicultural, multilingual, and multi-generational Catholic community, we are followers of Jesus Christ and witnesses to his message. We provide a spiritual home in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain where all are welcome. We support one another in our journeys of faith and share our gifts with each other, our neighbors, and the larger world."
These three distinct faith communities know who they are and have a clear sense of their purpose. They also know and name the values that guide them: transparency, prayerful decision making, and generosity. They envision their collaborative as: "salt, light, and leaven in our communities. As one large family of faith, we celebrate our diversity in unity. The joy, peace, and good works of our members invite others to join with us as disciples of Jesus Christ. Our tri-parish family, through God's love, will generate an environment where vocations flourish and our reverent, vibrant, and prayerful worship nurtures us so that in every part of our lives we give thanks and glory to God."
Articulating purpose, values, vision, and priorities, is the work of the collaborative writing team. As each local plan is unique, so too, each collaborative approached the writing process in its own way. Jose Gonzalez, religious education coordinator at Our Lady of Lourdes reports that the Jamaica Plain-Roxbury method relied heavily on parishioner feedback. At the outset, the pastoral planning committee invited all parishioners to a Pastoral Plan Town Hall Meeting. The meeting provided an overview of the plan writing process and explained the task of identifying priorities and setting goals. The writing team and others prepared a questionnaire listing potential priorities. Parishioners were asked to give strengths, challenges, and goals for each priority, and were invited to propose other priorities for consideration. At each stage in the writing process, the draft was brought to parishioners for comment, with all materials available in Spanish and English. One town hall meeting attracted over 70 parishioners representing all three parishes. After much praying, discussing, and consulting, their local pastoral plan highlights three priorities: ongoing faith formation for all; social justice; and effective resource management.
Christian Rocha, a relatively new parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas, wanted to become more involved in the parish, and the writing team was a good fit. He said that one of the challenges turned out to be one of the best parts of the process: words. Finding language that all three parishes could agree on took time. "The best part," he said, "was sitting and thinking about what we really wanted for our collaborative."
Words are powerful and certainly can inspire, but if they are just ideas on a page, their power is diminished. After naming their priorities, they set goals -- specific and measurable, attainable relevant, and trackable -- and set deadlines. When asked if he really, seriously, honestly, thinks this plan will work, Christian replied, "Yes. The biggest concern (during the writing process) was, is this feasible? There's always the temptation to just put something down and see what happens later. We did a really good job of making it our own. It's about improving our parishes according to our circumstances." Today, less than one month after the plan was approved, one of the goals under their faith formation priority -- Bible study for adults -- is already underway. Christian admitted that the writing process took a lot of time, but adds without hesitation that he would do it again.
The Jamaica Plain-Roxbury local pastoral plan and the other local plans can be seen at www.disciplesinmission.com. The hard work of writing is over. The hard work of implementation has begun. Keep the Phase I collaboratives -- parishioners, staff, and clergy -- in prayer.
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.