Multiple parish pastoring has been a growing reality for years, but Disciples in Mission comes at it from a new perspective.
Last weekend The Pilot announced the names of 16 parishes that will form 10 collaboratives in Phase V of 'Disciples in Mission.' (The list is available at www.disciplesinmission.com.) Parishioners in these parishes received the news via pulpit announcement, or parish bulletin and website, the previous weekend. The collaboratives will launch in June 2017. There is much to do between now and then.
The current pastor is asked to submit his letter of resignation to Cardinal O'Malley. Usually, the pastor remains in place until June. We have been through this process in the four previous phases but still, this act is often misunderstood and can sound harsh. Disciples in Mission states: "We recommend that,... the Archbishop of Boston give preference to the goal of evangelization in every assignment of a pastor to a collaborative, so that the assignment of the most suitable pastor is the single most important factor in ensuring the success of the collaborative and its evangelization efforts." The cardinal needs the freedom to appoint the pastor whom he feels is best suited for the work of evangelization. And for the pastor, this is a time of discernment: Where is God calling me now? Apply to be pastor of the collaborative? Or, is it time to move to a new parish? Of the 53 collaboratives in Phases I-IV, 26 are led by a pastor who had been pastor/administrator of one of the parishes. Parish staff members are NOT asked to resign and re-apply. Since Phase I began, there has been great variety in the responses of parish staffs and parish employees. There is some attrition, and, as the pastor considers where a person's gifts and talents can be best used, there has been some shuffling of duties and responsibilities. Collaborative clergy, staffs, and council members understand that training in discipleship, evangelization, leadership, and the workings of a collaborative are necessary components of being part of a new collaborative.
As part of the process to name the collaborative pastor, the Clergy Personnel Office will meet with staffs and councils to hear their comments and learn what they consider important information about the parishes of the collaborative that may not be reflected in the standard profile of facts, figures, and demographics. The Pastoral Planning Office will hold information meetings, open to all parishioners in the soon-to-be collaborative, to convey Cardinal Sean's expectation for Disciples in Mission: why we are doing it, and why we are doing it now. This will give an overview of the purpose and goals of the plan, the plan's focus on evangelization and promoting vocations, and what a collaborative looks like from a staff and leadership perspective.
Disciples in Mission is moving along. Some collaboratives are doing really, really well, some are doing well, and, for sure, some are struggling. No plan is flawless. Perfection is hard to come by, this side of heaven. One priest leading multiple parishes is a phenomenon that this archdiocese, and dioceses across the country, have been living with for some years. In May of 2013, just before the Phase I pastors were assigned, the archdiocese had 30 pastors/administrators in charge of multiple parishes. Currently, there are 16 priests, not in collaboratives, serving as pastor or administrator of more than one parish. Multiple parish pastoring has been a growing reality for years, but Disciples in Mission comes at it from a new perspective. The plan aggressively and intentionally tries to address what we have identified as "Four Core Deficits": not enough priests, not enough lay ecclesial ministers, not enough money, and not enough people in the pews. The series of Disciples in Mission workshops provides assistance and advice to collaboratives in promoting vocations and helping the faithful who are in the pews deepen their own relationship with the Lord and gain confidence and skills to invite others back.
The support system that assists pastors has changed, too. Support and guidance has always been available from Central Ministry offices to all parishes, but under Disciples in Mission, each collaborative has a designated Collaborative Support Team (CST) from these archdiocesan offices. CST members get to know the pastors and leadership teams in their collaboratives very well. In the first few years, contact between CST and the collaborative is frequent; concerns are addressed and questions answered in a much timelier manner. Emphasis is not on "surviving" multiple parish situations, but helping collaborative parishes thrive and grow. This doesn't happen overnight, it is the work of a generation. Pray for the parishioners, staff, and clergy of all of our collaboratives.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.