Plan writing is not for the faint of heart or the already over-committed. The first draft is due to Cardinal O'Malley in December.
Phase I collaboratives are nearing the end of the first year of implementation of their three-year Local Pastoral Plan. (We will check in with them in the coming weeks). Phase II collaboratives are preparing the final version of their plans to submit to Cardinal O'Malley in June. Phase III collaboratives, approaching their one year anniversary in June, now begin their plan-writing process.
According to those who have "been there, done that," writing a local pastoral plan is simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. Most Phase III collaborative pastors have identified and invited people to be part of the writing team. Others are working to complete the team before the regional orientation kick off meetings begin on April 12. The ideal plan writing team has 10 to 12 members. Parishioners, collaborative staff, finance and collaborative pastoral councils, will be represented. Plan writing requires people who are strategic thinkers and bring valuable experience and perspective to the task. The team should represent the demographic of the collaborative: young, old, long-time members of a parish, as well as some new to the neighborhood. If the collaborative is ethnically diverse, this should be reflected on the writing team as well. Members should come agenda-free. Now is not the time to lobby for converting the unused convent into a faith formation center. That might happen eventually, but if it does, it will flow from one of the three priorities which form the core of the plan. Each priority is supported by goals and strategies for implementation that are unique to the particular collaborative. Even when the same priority is present in several local plans, the goals and strategies associated with that priority can vary from one collaborative to another. Rarely does one size fit all. The priorities surface and take flesh during the writing process, often with robust consultation from the broader community. When the plan is finalized and approved, implementation is the work of everyone in the collaborative, not just the writing team, staff, or councils.
Plan writing is not for the faint of heart or the already over-committed. The first draft is due to Cardinal O'Malley in December. This may seem eons away right now, but to make this deadline the writing team will meet with their consultant from the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) and representatives from archdiocesan central ministry offices in five, three-hour sessions: April, May, June, September and October. If that doesn't seem too taxing, factor in that in between these monthly meetings, the writing team will meet on their own, visioning, crafting, wrestling with ideas, and word-smithing. It is certainly an honor to be asked to be part of this team but, make no mistake, it is a serious commitment of time and energy. There is some "heavy lifting" involved.
Sister Patricia Boyle, CSJ, Associate Director of the Office of Pastoral Planning speaks about "motion economy" -- planning meetings and meeting locations in the most efficient way. Taking a page from her book, CLI consultants schedule their evening plan writing meetings in the collaborative on the same day that they conduct leadership formation and team development with that collaborative's administrative and pastoral staffs. Plan writing meetings are 6-9 p.m., staff development takes place the same day, 1-4 p.m. Some people will be involved in both sessions, making for very long, intense days.
Making parishes strong, stable centers of evangelization takes hard work. Setting forth a plan of prayer and action for the next three years takes hard work -- just ask the folks in Phases I and II. Hard work and God's grace are recurring themes in pastoral planning. As Phase III moves into their second year they can see from those in earlier phases that although the road ahead may be bumpy at times, with unexpected twists, turns, and detours, it is worth the effort. Like the writing process itself, forming a collaborative is simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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