The standard questions -- biggest challenge? surprise? success? -- provided material for conversation that could have gone on for hours, and, in fact, reporting on the meeting will go on for two weeks!
The Easter season is rich with readings that tell the story of how the early Church grew from a small group of intentional disciples to a world-wide Church of 1.2 billion. The growth of the Church was not without struggles. Easter Tuesday seemed a fitting time to gather Phase I collaboratives' clergy and staffs to talk about their work of implementing the Local Pastoral Plan (LPP) -- also a work not without struggles. Almost one year into the three-year plan, the group from Billerica, Brookline, Jamaica Plan-Roxbury, Lynn, and Salem enjoyed being together to share joys, sorrows, and ideas. The standard questions -- biggest challenge? Surprise? Success? -- provided material for conversation that could have gone on for hours, and, in fact, reporting on the meeting will go on for two weeks! Two things appear universal: people are tired, and the successes, even small ones, are energizing. Deacon Phil DiBello, director of Faith Formation and Ministry in the Billerica Collaborative, describes collaborative life as "holy chaos" and listening to the group's experiences, this phrase seems appropriate. Each person is obviously engaged in the sacredness of the work -- evangelization and making disciples -- but working with multiple parishes can get chaotic.
Answers to the general question, "How are things going?" showed progress from previous implementation meetings in July and October. Helping parishioners to take the Local Pastoral Plan seriously, recruiting volunteers, and finding a way to track progress, are issues across the board. Margo Morin, pastoral ministries manager in Salem, described her experience of the past three years: the first year, she was new, she didn't know the parishes or parishioners, and they didn't know her. The second year was one of reorganization which often involves some pain. Strong feelings surfaced and Margo honestly admits the difficulty. This third year, their LPP was approved, they have begun implementation, and Steven Antonio DiMascio and Catherine Ziobro, joined the leadership and Faith Formation team. Margo puts it succinctly: this year, things are great! Father Brian Flynn, pastor of the Lynn collaborative commented that "working from their LPP, they are seeing the fruits of their labors." The plan "allowed us to move forward and now we're seeing results."
Edie McDaniel, religious education director at St. Mary Parish in Brookline noted that the Brookline collaborative is in an area rich with universities and hospitals. Some people are in the parish for limited amounts of time, for study or hospital work. Recruiting volunteers can be a challenge, but she sees progress. Edie prepares weekly lesson plans for catechists, cutting down preparation time, making it a bit easier to commit to teaching. In their religious education program she and youth minister Christine Nadjarian emphasize the importance of Mass, Eucharist, and reconciliation. The collaborative's evangelization efforts are working to bring parishioners into the whole process, as Edie says, helping parishioners recognize that, "they are a part of this."
Pastoral associate Holly Clark, describes progress in Cranberry country -- Middleborough, Lakeville, Rochester: "Some things are going vroom, vroom, vroom, other things, not so much." She acknowledges the important role of the Collaborative Pastoral Council. Their LPP is on the agenda at every meeting. Prayer is a vital part of implementation and the council now builds in extended prayer time at their meetings. Speaking of councils and prayer, Lynn, too, has made prayer an integral part of pastoral council meetings. When their new council is formed, a retreat will be included in the schedule.
Father Carlos Flor, pastor of the Jamaica Plain-Roxbury collaborative, said that they are doing well, admitting that with three parishes he feels like he is "running all the time." The challenge is the big work load born by their small, paid leadership team. The good news is that they have seen an increase in volunteers stepping up to help. Father Flor says, "Things are happening. We want to start a children's Mass and we have a vocations committee in place." The committee plans to bring some high school young men to the St. Andrew's Dinner -- an evening of prayer, dinner, and conversation with Cardinal O'Malley. The collaborative is also planning a pilgrimage to Stockbridge. They might not make all their LPP deadlines, but Father Flor is happy that their new collaborative website will go live, soon.
Next week, a look at some creative ways collaboratives have designed to keep their priorities and goals in sight.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.