All parishes, whether in a collaborative or not, can look at what the Newton collaborative is trying to do. Their efforts, goals, and most importantly, attitude, can be borrowed and adapted in most parishes.
The Newton collaborative of Sacred Heart and Our Lady Help of Christians parishes has just completed the first year of their three-year local pastoral plan. They are serious about implementation. They have gathered a committee to track progress and work toward accomplishing their three priorities: "Fostering a personal relationship with Christ," "Discerning our call," and "Forming disciples for evangelization." These priorities focus on the themes: "Encounter Christ," "Respond in Love," and "Share the Good News."
Pastoral Associate Brian Niemiec reports that the committee has been meeting once a month, but added extra meetings in May and June before the summer took people in different directions. A dedicated sub-committee attends to the implementation of each priority. Members of the committee reach out to the wider parish community for feedback and suggestions.
Beginning at the end of June, weekly updates in the parish bulletins highlight the "successes and challenges experienced during the first year of implementation." All parishes, whether in a collaborative or not, can look at what the Newton collaborative is trying to do. Their efforts, goals, and most importantly, attitude, can be borrowed and adapted in most parishes.
Letting the collaborative speak for itself, here are excerpts from recent updates:
-- "We are called in this plan to be more Christ centered; to have our relationship with Christ infuse all that we do. Being ever more committed disciples of Christ will naturally push us out of our comfort zones. It will challenge us to take risks, reassess our priorities, and change the way we live our lives. Yet, in the face of such terrible and senseless violence observed in the world today, it is exactly what is needed. The courage, compassion, mercy, and love that flow from the God of Jesus Christ can heal this painfully broken world. We do not go to Mass out of mere obligation. We are not Catholics only because that is the religion of our parents. We are part of this community because we seek with all our heart to follow the teachings and life of Christ. We do this because we believe that in conforming ourselves more to Christ, we become the best and most fulfilled versions of ourselves. We become who we were meant to be. That is the ultimate end goal of this plan, and that is a goal that will very much change the world in which we live."
-- In addressing their third priority, "Forming disciples for evangelization," the bulletin update says, "When describing evangelization, Pope Francis has frequently used the term missionary disciples. A missionary disciple is someone who has a living, personal, and communal relationship with Christ, tries to follow the teachings of Christ in order to live as he lived, and shares that loving relationship (the Good News) with those around them. It is this last piece that makes disciples distinctly missionary. As Catholics, we cannot simply live our faith within the communities of Sacred Heart and Our Lady's, but must bring the Good News of our faith to the broader community."
Being a missionary disciple is the work of all the baptized. This past year, seven parishioners in the Newton collaborative gave witness talks, sharing their joys, struggles, and journey with Christ. From the bulletin update: "it was incredibly humbling to hear their witness, and to see the outpouring of positive responses from fellow parishioners in the pews." The phrase "witness talk" can sound intimidating, but read again the description: sharing joys, struggles, and journey with Christ. Done one-on-one, it is as simple as relating how you survived a difficult time, or experienced great, perhaps unexpected, joy. It's about how God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- is part of your life. Sharing our personal story is not a practice restricted to collaborative parishioners only.
The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, "Lumen Gentium" ("Light of the Nations"), speaks about missionary discipleship without using the term: "The laity are called upon, as living members, to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church ... . Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all ... so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church" (LG 33).
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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