A high point of the three-day orientation were conversations with Phase II and III pastors who came to talk about their experiences of being a collaborative pastor -- pitfalls and graces, positives and negatives.
Day two of Phase IV pastor orientation began with a discussion about "gateway moments" -- those times when people come for something that only the Church provides, such as sacraments or a funeral Mass. Tom Lyman led the discussion, encouraging the pastors, "The great thing about gateway moments is that the sky's the limit in what you do!" This is familiar territory for these pastors who were off and running, offering evangelization ideas.
Collaborative pastors for just four months, they welcomed the next exercise which examined transitions -- endings, beginnings, and the time in between, the "neutral zone." A collaborative start-up impacts everyone: clergy, staff, and parishioners. Definitely, it's a time of transition. People are sharing a pastor, Mass times or locations may change, and staffs worry about job security or being asked to do their job in a different way, at a different location. Jim DiFrancesco, archdiocesan director of Human Relations, reminded the pastors, "Your staff needs to fit your mission, not your mission fit your staff." He added, "In this new model, pastors need to delegate certain functions. Well qualified and formed personnel add value to the staff and collaborative...Putting people in roles without the needed skills can have negative consequences."
A high point of the three-day orientation were conversations with Phase II and III pastors who came to talk about their experiences of being a collaborative pastor -- pitfalls and graces, positives and negatives. From Phase II: Father Walter Woods, Acton-Stow and Father Joe Mazzone, Stoughton; and from Phase III: Father Richard Clancy from the Dracut, Lowell, Tyngsborough collaborative. Father Clancy, knowing that the Phase IV pastors around the table had "tons of experience," quoted Samuel Johnson: "People don't so much need to be informed as reminded." He stressed the need to "keep an eye on the budget" and acknowledge open wounds that remain in some places from past church closings. Father Mazzone noted that increased Mass attendance did not necessarily mean increased revenue. He spoke about hope -- "If people lack hope about the future, they will hold back. Hope is a virtue. 'Hope' kept showing up in our local pastoral plan. People want a reason to have hope." When staffing questions came up, Father Woods mentioned the importance of building trust, but "that's not done overnight." He kept assuring his people, "I'm here and I care." Later, he spoke about the anticipation of being in Phase II. He shared some valuable insights: "This is 24 hours a day and I can't do it all. That is very freeing -- of course, it's easy to say, not always easy to do."
Father Mazzone: "The elephant in the room that never gets talked about is vocations. This has a direct part to play. There is a reason for the priest shortage ... it's just not encouraged. With all the restructuring, a major thing has to be vocations."
Working with collaborative staffs was another concern of the Phase IV pastors, one admitting, "I feel very neglectful about time with the staff at the other parish." Lucille Smith from the Catholic Leadership Institute advised that regular meetings with the entire collaborative staff are very important. Father Mazzone added, "You want your staff to feel listened to and valued." Discussion continued into the evening. Describing the conversations with Phase II and III pastors, Father Paul Soper said it was an "extraordinary moment in the history of the archdiocese." The honest exchange of ideas, joys, challenges, among brother priests was great.
On the final day, pastors were invited to think about their personal testimony: "a personal account of how you came to know God and have responded to His action in a way that changed your life." Evangelization consultant Liz Cotrupi directed this exercise and the testimonies were moving.
The last page of the workbook had a quote from St. Pope John Paul II: "The future starts today, not tomorrow," and an Action Plan worksheet. The pastors' Action Plans included: "Pray with staff"; "Create a culture among the staff"; "Explain to people about transition"; "Look into starting small groups." The three-day orientation ended with "Honorable Closure" -- a chance to offer a "last word": "There are so many heroes in the archdiocese doing yeoman work, all for the Kingdom"; "I appreciate archdiocesan staff and their willingness to journey together"; "This is a marathon"; "I most appreciate the people in the pews -- I draw strength from them."
In her work with CLI, Lucille Smith travels across the United States and Canada. Her "last word": "God is working here." Pray for Father Kelly, Father Boudreau, Father Nestor, Father Ring, and Father Sepe.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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