'None of us was ordained for a collaborative. This is a whole new reality but it comes back to the call to holiness and leadership and not getting lost.'
The Pastoral Center recently hosted Phase IV pastors for collaborative pastor orientation. Responding to suggestions from pastors in earlier phases, the Pastoral Planning Office redesigned the format of the orientation and moved the meetings from spring to fall, giving pastors a bit of time to become familiar with their new way of life. Even though most of the pastors had been in one of their parishes before the collaboratives were inaugurated, being a collaborative is a different experience. The meetings ran from 1:30 to 8 p.m., thereby avoiding rush hour traffic and allowing for morning funerals. The sessions, spread over three days, were more a conversation than a classroom lecture.
Lucille Smith, vice president of Episcopal and Client Services at the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) guided the pastors through a 59 page workbook that went from an examination of mission driven vs. maintenance driven ministry on day one, to the completion of an action plan worksheet on the final night. To start, pastors were asked to name their top blessings and challenges of being a collaborative pastor. Blessings: gaining insight into my own personal ministry and going outside of my comfort zone; fantastic staff in place; high powered work of the people, lots of possibilities; sharing resources among the parishes; the good work done by my predecessor. Challenges: how to do all this?; money!; time -- very little time to yourself; being in multiple communities and not seem to be favoring one over the other -- it's like being the father of twins; Mass schedules; doing things so that one parish doesn't feel slighted.
Tom Lyman, evangelization consultant and Michael Lavigne, assistant cabinet secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship (SED) looked at parish life through the lens of the new evangelization and forming disciples. They encouraged the pastors to examine the "We've always done it this way" thinking. Is "this way" working? Has it led to forming disciples? Lavigne urged, "Don't be imprisoned by what has been." The discussion flowed easily. Speaking about prayer, forming a real leadership team, and having a clear vision, the pastors made suggestions about praying with their staff, offering a staff retreat day, and creating an atmosphere to talk about discipleship and faith. Evangelization consultant Amber Ezeani asked, "Why form disciples?" One pastor responded: "For their own good." Another said "The word 'parishioners' is limited. 'Disciples' broadens the scope and helps people go from the parish to the workplace and kitchen table. Parishioner is what I do in the parish. Discipleship goes beyond. If all we do is what we're doing Sunday morning, were only doing half the work."
The workbooks contained a paragraph from the Rite of Ordination that begins, "Almighty Father, grant to these servants of yours the dignity of the priesthood." The men talked about how the rite influences their role as collaborative pastor. One pastor pointed out that "In this opening line there is the reality of servant and leadership." Another commented, "None of us was ordained for a collaborative. This is a whole new reality but it comes back to the call to holiness and leadership and not getting lost."
Honesty and frankness were hallmarks of the three days and made the sessions fruitful. One pastor commented, "We must renew within us a spirit of holiness ... but this is a new reality so for the parishioners too, they have to be renewed."
Focusing on evangelization and discipleship as the pastor of a multi-parish or a one-parish collaborative is going to come with new and greater demands on the pastors' time. They came up with lists of reasonable and unreasonable demands. Reasonable: personal prayer, listening, preparing a good homily. Unreasonable: make no change, the pastor has all sorts of time, always saying yes. This conversation ended and day one drew to a close with a pastor quoting the beloved late Father Robert Flagg, former Dean of St. John's Seminary College who said that one of the most important sentences in the Bible came, not from Jesus, but from John the Baptist: "I am not the Messiah."
More about this extraordinary gathering of pastors next week. Meanwhile, please keep them and their collaboratives in prayer:
Father Bill Kelly -- St. Paul Parish, Cambridge
Father Tom Boudreau -- St. Michael Parish, Avon/St. Joseph Parish, Holbrook
Father Tom Nestor -- Resurrection Parish/St. Paul Parish, Hingham
Father Paul Ring -- St. John the Evangelist, E. Bridgewater/St. Ann Parish, W. Bridgewater
Father Kevin Sepe -- Sacred Heart Parish/St. Patrick Parish, Watertown.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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