The parishes of Saint Dorothy and Saint Thomas of Villanova make up the Catholic Community of Wilmington and South Tewksbury. Planning is not new to this community. In 2010, ahead of the curve, these parishes worked with a consultant who guided them through a process designed to help them plan for a future together. They were well positioned to become a Disciples in Mission Phase II collaborative in 2014.
Tom Griffin, Pastoral Associate for the collaborative says that parishioners, staff, and writing team, "did diligent work on their Local Pastoral Plan." But as they begin to implement their plan and work on their priorities, they know that they cannot ignore what is going on in their region, the state, and the world. Parish and collaborative life always involves multi-tasking. Responding to opioid crisis and addiction concerns across the state, Wilmington Catholic Community partnered with Catholic Charities for a presentation to address the issue. The meeting was held at St. Thomas Church on a Sunday night. The church, with a capacity of over 500, was filled, with many people standing. A follow-up meeting provided additional information that was especially helpful to parents. On a global level, in light of the escalation of violence in the world, and heeding Pope Francis' appeal, "May a powerful cry for peace go up from every land," the collaborative is promoting a Prayer Vigil for Peace that will take place on September 18, a Sunday evening, at Saint Thomas Church. This town-wide ecumenical inter-religious service, will have readings from Scripture and from secular writings on peace. They hope to form a choir with members from the various houses of worship in the town.
Wilmington Catholic Community is not ignoring their Local Pastoral Plan as they attend to demands around them. The Wilmington collaborative staff has read and spent time discussing Father James Mallon's popular book, "Divine Renovation -- Bringing your Parish From Maintenance to Mission". Their conversations about the book have influenced changes that they will be making in their faith formation program. Tom Griffin estimates that 1,500 children and teens are in their religious education program, and Faith Formation is one of the three priorities in their Local Pastoral Plan. They have redesigned their collaborative website, giving their Local Pastoral Plan prominence and separating out each component of the plan so that it can be read easily.
The collaborative bulletin highlights the Local Pastoral Plan as well. The bulletin devotes a full page to Pastoral Planning. The page updates readers and encourages their involvement: "As we await word of the approval of our Local Pastoral Plan later this month, the website remains the source for the hopes and dreams, vision and details, and how you might get engaged with the plan." Some weeks ago the bulletin column explained the important work of their "Joseph of Arimathea Funeral Ministry." This ministry serves families and individuals when a loved one dies, and also serves the collaborative by leading wake and committal services, and assisting at funerals.
More recently, the column described, "See, Judge, Act ...a process of recognizing a particular social need or issue, reflecting on ways to address what's at stake, and responding to a situation." The process describes how their LPP came to be: "We recognize (See) a need to be more engaged with vocations in our church. We recognize a need to further develop faith formation opportunities for all ages. We recognize the real need to be more evangelizing. We made judgements (Judge) with regard to how best to implement a process where we can address the needs of our faith community. We are acting (Act) to make the Pastoral Plan become a reality for all."
This process has given the collaborative a strategic plan for the next three years. The Office of Pastoral Planning encourages collaboratives to be flexible in the implementation of the LPP. Cardinal O'Malley often speaks about flexibility when he approves the plans. The Wilmington Catholic Collaborative fully intends to "review... tweak... and hold people (staff and parishioners) accountable." They are excited to begin implementation, but the needs of the community can't be ignored. The Drug Awareness and Information nights and the upcoming Prayer Service for Peace show that the Wilmington Catholic Community can engage in long term planning and, at the same time, attend to real life situations around them.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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