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What they saw and heard

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"We should see this moment as a graced opportunity to chart new ways to live out our mission more fully." -- Archbishop Cupich

Susan
Abbott

Quick re-cap: Representatives from the Archdiocese of Chicago spent a week meeting with Pastoral Center staff in Braintree and on the road visiting collaboratives. Our guests were Msgr. Richard Hynes, director of the Department of Parish Life and Formation, Father Jason Malave, co-chairman of the Priests' Steering Committee for "Renew My Church" and pastor of Saint Benedict Parish, a parish with an elementary and high school, and Mr. Tim Weiske, Director of Strategic Planning and Implementation.

Chicago has embarked on a multi-year planning process to revitalize parishes. The process is called "Renew My Church," and Archbishop Cupich says, "We should see this moment as a graced opportunity to chart new ways to live out our mission more fully."

What did the Chicago visitors hear, see and learn during their time in our archdiocese? Graced moments were plentiful. They visited five pastors (Pilot, May 27) who were brutally honest about the challenges they faced -- and still are. Some spoke about the pain they felt in resigning from, and ultimately leaving, the parishes they loved and moving to a collaborative. But as one pastor said, "Resigning is right. We belong to Jesus and the Church, not to a parish." Conversations were full of tales of unexpected happenings as the collaboratives began "a tsunami of things happened -- pipes, electrical" and it was imperative to build trust in this new place with parishioners who were understandably looking for stability. As one said, "People need to know that you love Jesus -- and tell them that as soon as you get there." One pastor commented that some collaborative pastors are tired. It is hard work. Even as they described their challenges, each pastor showed surprising optimism and faithfulness.

Regarding financial concerns in collaboratives, Patrick Farragher, Parish Consultant Supervisor in our Parish Financial Services department (PFS) explained that the work of the PFS staff is to assist collaboratives, help them work through problems and be successful, "We're not a compliance office, we're a resource." This perspective impressed the visitors.

Other comments from the collaborative pastors we met:

-- "We've been through so many programs but this (Disciples in Mission) is different. We have to do this now."

-- Bringing staff together in one Collaborative Center location is important. "It helps break down barriers between parishes."

-- "Being present is #1 in my view; it is huge. And the Sunday experience is huge."

-- "Sometimes we don't realize that we have hope and joy in our hearts. You're at Mass every week, you have hope and joy."

Father Malave commented, "I sense real Christ-centered leadership here."

When asked about the extensive training that Phase I pastors went through, Father John Sheridan replied, "I felt like we were doing something special -- something special for the Church."

Question: "Do people in the pews think that this is working?"

A member of a collaborative pastoral council and writing team answered, "People who pay attention do!" A staff member in that same collaborative added, "Transparency is important. People know that there are no secrets." And another commented, "People don't feel that one parish is being favored."

Question: What was surprising and joyful?

Responses:

-- "Seeing it evolve. Maybe we weren't sure it would work

-- the first six months there were so many questions. The first year was very painful."

-- A music director commented on how wonderful it is to build up a music program in a parish that previously had little or no music at their liturgies.

-- Praising his staff, a pastor commented, "Our relationship with each other is positive and respectful."

-- A lay member of a leadership team: "I feel like I've been preparing all my life for this challenge."

Conversation at each stop ended with one of the visitors asking, "What should we have asked? What should we know?"

-- Don't expect everyone to "get it" right away.

-- At first, people were saying 'don't change, don't change', now, two years in, they say, "You're not going fast enough!"

-- We all want to make this work.

-- "Be patient and resolute" (the mantra of one collaborative leadership team)

-- Misinformation is huge -- communication is important.

-- Don't get overly stressed about tomorrow. It was almost 300 years after St. Peter's death that his work for the Church would come to fruition.

Msgr. Hynes' final question: "What do you want us to leave with?"

Without skipping a beat, the pastor responded, "Hope and joy."

Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.

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