"Respondents (men who entered the seminary) who have one person encouraging them are nearly twice as likely to consider a vocation as those who are not encouraged."
Phase III collaboratives have started down the road of Local Pastoral Plan (LPP) writing. Six kick off meetings, held across the archdiocese in mid-April, introduced collaborative staffs and Plan Writing Teams to what lies ahead. Part pep rally, part infomercial, the three-hour meetings explored the difference between maintenance-driven and mission-driven ministry. Discussion included a look at requirements for success, the four disciplines of a healthy, vibrant collaborative, and the elements of a LPP. All of this must be rooted in prayer and aligned with the vision of the universal Church and the Church in Boston.
Collaborative Plan Writing Teams will meet once a month in May, June, September, and next March with a consultant from the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) joined by archdiocesan staff from Human Resources, Parish Financial Services, Real Estate, Vocations, Facilities, and Evangelization. These monthly meetings began last week. CLI suggests that the first order of business is to "scan the environment," beginning with a look at the results of the Disciple Maker Index (DMI), the survey that was offered to parishioners of Phase III collaboratives in January and February. Almost 3,500 people in Phase III Collaboratives completed the survey either online or by hand. The DMI is not meant to be the sole source of input in crafting a LPP. It is just one factor and CLI cautions, the DMI "results will prompt more questions than provide answers -- that is the point." In between the monthly meetings with CLI, plan writing teams will meet on their own to begin discussion about the collaborative's vision, purpose, values, and priorities.
Fitting that DMI analysis and plan writing begin now, as the Church in Boston welcomes and rejoices in the ordination of nine new priests this weekend. Cardinal Sean has asked every collaborative to make fostering vocations to the diocesan priesthood one of the priorities in their LPP. The need to name this a priority, create strategies, and set measurable goals around the priority is great. A question on the DMI asks: Over the past year, how often have you "Invited a man to consider a vocation to the priesthood." Responses can range from never to daily. The expectation that this does not happen often was realized: many responded that in the past year they never posed the question: "Have you ever thought about being a priest?" Such a simple question.
Dr. Mark Gray, a researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, has been quoted here before but his words bear repeating "Respondents (men who entered the seminary) who have one person encouraging them are nearly twice as likely to consider a vocation as those who are not encouraged. The effect is additive. Respondents who had three persons encourage them would be expected to be more than five times more likely to consider a vocation than someone who was not encouraged by anyone." Cardinal O'Malley doesn't mince words about our responsibility to foster vocations. In his 2005 pastoral letter, "Vocations: Everybody's Business," he wrote: "If you are a Catholic, you have a huge stake in the priesthood and vocations."
The Phase I Collaborative of Lynnfield is now living out their LPP which was approved by Cardinal O'Malley in June 2015. The plan addresses the vocations priority in an A to Z list of milestones and strategies spread over three categories: Create, Invite, Prayer, a fourth grouping covers support for seminary formation and encouraging teachers in Our Lady of the Assumption School and parish religious education program to look at young men in their classrooms who might be inclined to consider priesthood.
The nine men who are ordained this weekend will serve in a collaborative sooner or later. That is the reality. This new model of leadership, with one pastor and one shared leadership team, which may or may not include a parochial vicar, makes it possible to keep parishes open while everyone focuses on evangelization, helping people grow closer to Jesus Christ, and creating a culture of vocations in our homes, parishes, and collaboratives. This will bear good fruit: vibrant parishes filled with intentional disciples, and an increase in vocations to the priesthood. We pray for the men who will be ordained this weekend, who said "Yes" to God's call.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.