"In a changing environment, it is important to reconsider our reason for existence, our significance, and the critical role these parishes play in building the Kingdom of God....''
As Phase III works on drafts of their Local Pastoral Plans (LPP), Phase II collaboratives await the formal letter from Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley that their completed plans have been approved. Most collaboratives have shared the plans with parishioners via their collaborative webpages, but until approval is official, plan highlights will only be broadly described here, just to avoid "WikiLeaks journalism."
Disciples in Mission collaboratives are charged with writing a three-year Local Pastoral Plan identifying collaborative-specific priorities. Not every priority has to be a "knock-your-socks-off" statement; the process of writing the plan is, itself, a huge step. Parish life is hectic, sometimes, chaotic. The daily course of events in a busy parish can highjack well intentioned efforts to engage in setting long range goals. Staff and certainly clergy are overworked. Anyone who has called the parish office or dropped by for whatever reason, will confirm that there is often a cacophony of ringing phones and doorbells. Day to day life can take on the demeanor of triage. It can be difficult to plan three years out when the boiler just broke or the parking lot developed a sink hole the size of a city block. Planning seems like a luxury. Despite all of this, Collaboratives must prepare a plan. But, this assignment comes with the support to accomplish it. The Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) and staff from Central Ministry offices offer suggestions and provide feedback on goals and strategies every step of the way, all to ensure success.
Before they begin to discern priorities, collaboratives are asked to describe their purpose. The purpose of the collaborative may seem obvious, but CLI frames the discussion this way: "In a changing environment, it is important to reconsider our reason for existence, our significance, and the critical role these parishes play in building the Kingdom of God.... What can these parishes do together that they can't do by themselves? What difference would it make if these parishes no longer existed?" When these questions are answered and the collaborative purpose statement is formed, the Writing Team moves on to discuss the values that the collaborative holds dear. Purpose answers "why", values describes "how". What beliefs guide the collaborative's behaviors, decisions, and way of communicating?
Phase II collaboratives expressed a wide range of values. Rightly, Faith is prominently listed. Several collaboratives mentioned that Hospitality and Being a Welcoming Church are important values. A few collaboratives used similar words -- Fellowship, Community, Inclusiveness to express this value. Stewardship is another value that collaboratives named. This means being accountable, wise, custodians of property, human and financial resources, and the natural environment. Related to Stewardship, some collaboratives listed Integrity and Transparency. By naming their values collaboratives accept the responsibility to live out those values. At the end of each year, they review, "This year we lived this value by.....", and list the actions -- proof -- that the collaborative did, indeed, embody the value.
Then Collaborative Writing Teams move on to Priorities, the heart of the LPP. At the request of Cardinal O'Malley, one priority must focus on vocations to the diocesan priesthood. An increase in vocations is key to being able to assign a pastor to each parish in the next 30-40 years. Most collaboratives name two additional priorities. It is not surprising that many collaboratives in Phase I and II, highlight Faith Formation. For some, this includes Forming Disciples. Liturgy is another area frequently given priority status. It touches all aspects of Sunday worship: before, during and after Mass. It often incorporates formation, not simply training, for greeters, altar servers, lectors, cantors, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and practical things such as appropriate and visible signage. The Liturgy priority encourages good music, good homilies, and a warm welcome at every Mass. It can overlap with Hospitality. Newcomers, the unfamiliar faces, should get a personal invitation to join the after-Mass coffee and donuts gathering, "C'mon down", and be introduced to others -- the "regulars". Evangelization, Outreach, and Service are other topics that get priority status.
Every parish/collaborative must -- does -- carry out the normal duties of the parish, chief among these are sanctifying and catechizing, that is, celebration of Mass and sacraments, and handing on the faith. Parishes are also agents of mercy, encouraging and enabling parishioners to visit the sick, bury the dead, and feed the hungry, and other works of mercy. This is all part of parish life. In writing a LPP, collaboratives are setting the bar higher. With a good plan, committed parishioners, and grace great things can happen.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.