Rich admitted to having a bit of a "Star Wars" moment when Father Harrison asked him to lead the project. When Rich questioned what was involved and how to proceed, Father Harrison replied, "Let the Spirit be with you!"
The Phase III collaborative of Holy Redeemer and Immaculate Conception Catholic Parishes (HRIC) serves the towns of Merrimac, Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury. Recently, Father Timothy Harrison, pastor, invited parishioners to a Collaborative Town Hall meeting with representatives from the archdiocese. Pre-meeting advertising promised "an interactive presentation and discussion on Disciples in Mission and the collaborative planning process. ... The Archdiocese Pastoral Planning Office and HRIC's Pastoral Plan Writing Team welcome the chance to hear your thoughts, concerns, and ideas for growing together as a community on our faith journey. Don't miss this opportunity to ask questions and to help our HRIC Collaborative benefit from your ideas, your experience, and your God-given gifts."
This description of the meeting shows the enthusiasm and openness of this collaborative's staff, writing team, and key volunteers. The meeting was all that the flyer promised with a good flow of ideas and comments back and forth.
Father Harrison opened the meeting with the Prayer for the New Evangelization. After presentations from archdiocesan staff about Disciples in Mission and evangelizing parishes, Father Harrison reviewed key findings from the Disciple Maker Index (DMI), the survey that parishioners were invited to take earlier this year. With graphs on the screen, he highlighted the areas in which the parish was doing very well, and the areas that "we need to pay attention to." Results show where the parishes fall compared to similar size, suburban parishes, to participating parishes in this archdiocese, and to participating parishes across the country. The HRIC Writing Team had factored this information into their discussions of priorities to include in their Local Pastoral Plan (LPP).
Father Harrison spoke with admiration and gratitude for the work that the writing team has done. Describing the evening meetings, he admitted that even when he was dead tired at the beginning of the meeting, the dedication and perseverance of the team energized him. He presented the four priorities that the team has named and encouraged parishioner to review them. The writing team has taken up the Planning Office's encouragement to be creative. The audience chuckled when Father Harrison said, "We sometimes color outside the lines."
Father Harrison asked Rich Ryan, coordinator and member of the writing team to speak about the writing process. Rich admitted to having a bit of a "Star Wars" moment when Father Harrison asked him to lead the project. When Rich questioned what was involved and how to proceed, Father Harrison replied, "Let the Spirit be with you!"
The HRIC Writing Team is the largest team that Disciples in Mission has worked with. The recommendation is that a team have 10 to 12 members, but in Phase III, the HRIC team has twice the recommended number, and another collaborative has a team of five, half of what is recommended. (Both teams are doing great work.) Rich told the large gathering: "We don't have all the answers, we're just beginning." He described the composition of the team, including archdiocesan staff and consultants, and quickly added, "The writing team is your neighbors." Speaking about the draft, he said, "We've built a foundation to our house, now we have to really start building the house. It's a living document that we're working on." He encouraged attendees to take the handout with names of the writing team, "The more input from you, the better job we'll do."
The question and answer period showed the interest of parishioners. One person is taking Father Harrison up on his offer to review the complete report from the DMI survey. Another commented that many people in the parish want to do things and get involved, saying, "We need to find what different people are comfortable with, then we put people together." A couple, in the collaborative just one year, congratulated Father Harrison on the life of the parish, today, and the great potential that exists going forward.
The collaborative knows the importance of good communication and has added Karen Leff, to the staff as Coordinator of Media Outreach. The Town Hall was well attended and well organized, thanks to the great work of Charlotte Vincent and Pat Forbes, writing team members of the communication sub-committee. At the close of the meeting they encouraged parishioners "to continue to talk to us.... Communication must be two way: You hear from us and we want to hear from you. We have an enormous opportunity to participate in an amazing evangelizing collaborative."
The ingredients for an exciting local pastoral plan -- prayer, energy, enthusiasm, and creativity -- are all in place.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.