So, how are things going? Responses spanned three broad categories: Great!; We're getting there; and, Oh my gosh, this is hard.
Phase I pastors and collaborative leadership teams were back at the Pastoral Center last week to share their joys and sorrows, tips and caveats with each other and Pastoral Center staff. When they gathered in July, pastors, teams, and Pastoral Center staff talked about ways to track the progress of priorities and goals put forth in their newly approved Local Pastoral Plans. Possibilities abound in July; the sun is out, the days are long, and the exhilaration of having their plan approved carried an energy all its own. The meeting last week took place on a dark, rainy, day, three days before we turned the clocks back. The fall had been busier than expected for everyone, and no one wanted to think about winter. So, how are things going? Responses spanned three broad categories: Great!; We're getting there; and, Oh my gosh, this is hard.
Discussion began with the reminder that Disciples in Mission is about evangelization and discipleship. The collaborative model of leadership focuses on evangelization, and evangelization begins with hospitality. Collaboratives are looking for effective ways to show the connection between hospitality and discipleship. Disciples in Mission calls for "radical hospitality." Handing out bulletins, or helping with coffee and donuts after Mass, may be components of hospitality, but radical hospitality is the practice of putting extraordinary effort into making people feel welcome. Several collaboratives are pleased that parishioners, knowing the hard work involved, have stepped up to staff new committees.
The Vocations and Liturgy committees are up and running in the Lynn collaborative. The leadership team is working on formation of volunteers, with special emphasis on the important work of hospitality and welcome.
Billerica has designed a one-page brochure that can be updated easily. It contains a welcome message, general collaborative information, and information about the next big event. They are rolling out their Local Pastoral Plan in the bulletin, and hope to put brief videos about it on their collaborative web page.
Salem is almost fully staffed and they have begun implementation of a new faith formation approach, with an emphasis on adult faith formation. They look forward to starting Alpha (a parish tool for evangelization based on welcome, hospitality, sharing and prayer) in January.
In the Cranberry Collaborative -- Middleborough, Lakeville, Rochester -- some ministries have been very inventive in implementing their part of the Local Pastoral Plan. In addition to rolling out the plan at town meetings, their "Why Catholic?" leaders have asked for a one page summary of the local plan for discussion. At the staff level, there are practical concerns about tracking initiatives, and what to put on hold in order to work on plan priorities.
A key priority of the Methuen local plan is outreach to the poor, and they recently visited homeless families in the area who are in temporary housing. This endeavor attracted people who had not been involved in parish activities before. The collaborative staff and leadership team went for a day of prayer off-site and they plan to do this again during the year. The collaborative is looking at ways to form leaders for small faith sharing group.
The Jamaica Plain Roxbury Collaborative operates with all volunteers. Part of their local plan is to increase the number of volunteers and they have seen growth, but this is an ongoing effort. The collaborative pastoral council is very involved in implementing and tracking the plan. The collaborative has begun a Bible study series and a 15 week program in Spanish on Christian prayer.
Several collaboratives have introduced new faith formation formats for adults and children -- exciting and pioneering work from this band of pioneer collaboratives. More to come about these programs.
The collaboratives were in agreement about the challenges. Rural, suburban or urban, the collaboratives are introducing a new way of thinking and sharing the faith. Said with the very best of intentions, "We've always done it this way" may not reflect the most effective way to draw people back to church and the sacraments. Good people are stretched thin and some are hesitant to take on additional volunteer responsibilities or commit to formation programs. Moving from faithful parishioner to disciple can be a leap of faith that some are not ready to take -- yet. Prayers, patience, and formation will help, but this is process, not a "one and done" thing. It's no surprise that time and money are also significant concerns.
With all of the trials and tribulations involved in implementing the local plans, the people who gathered at the Pastoral Center remain enthusiastic, filled with hope and missionary zeal. God is good.
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.