Phase I collaboratives were inaugurated in June 2013. Most submitted their local pastoral plans (LPP) to Cardinal Sean for approval in June 2015, and are now 18 months into implementation. Pastoral Center staff has been in contact with clergy and lay staffs, but this fall the Office of Pastoral Planning broadened its outreach in an effort to hear from collaborative parishioners. Many Phase I pastors scheduled Listening Sessions, open to all parishioners, council members, clergy, and staff. Father Paul Soper, cabinet secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship and director of Office of Pastoral Planning attended each meeting. Staff from the Planning Office and consultants from Parish Financial Services also attended, as schedules permitted. Five listening sessions have taken place, others are scheduled. Participation has been uneven -- some with just a handful of participants, in other places, 30 or 40 attendees.
Father Soper describes the intent of the meetings: "It will not be an evaluation of the collaborative or of its leadership. Instead, it is a part of a larger process of evaluation of Disciples in Mission that we are doing this year."
Meetings begin with prayer, last about an hour, and the agenda contains just one question: "How's it going?" The "it" being implementation of the local pastoral plan and collaborative life in general. Responses have been mostly favorable, but people have been honest about challenges as well.
-- We see successes in our collaborative every day.
-- Focused on evangelization, young people, and radical hospitality.
-- Nothing to complain about.
-- The two parishes have come together pretty well.
-- Socials are being done well -- people need to come together to get to know one another before starting.
-- Focused on vocations... training people to give witness, faith formation, and children's Liturgy of the Word.
-- Growing in appreciation of all three parishes in the collaborative. More...community and ability to make friends in all parishes.
-- Being in a collaborative has moved us out of our comfort zone (a good thing!)
-- Combined religious education program gives people freedom to choose according to their schedule.
-- Pooling resources provided an opportunity to have Vacation Bible School that went well.
-- At first ...I wasn't happy, felt that it was forced upon us, but it's going well. We're getting great results.
-- It was difficult at first, but we have come together and we try hard to share knowledge and resources. We are trying to be a collaborative.
-- Having the LPP helped a lot. After the plan, things became clearer.
-- Those who have worked on the collaborative from the beginning bonded as a group. That's huge.
-- Now is the time to settle down and say thank you. We are in such better hands now. We need to think more as disciples of Christ. The LPP has been moving. ... Jesus said "Go two by two and evangelize."
-- We're doing a great job following through.
-- The Church has been through many upheavals for many reasons, but we always believed that the Holy Spirit would care for us. Have faith and we'll stay together.
-- Phase I were pioneers and (plan) writing team members were trail blazers. No surprise, that there was a sense that no one knew what they were doing and fell short in making the plan public.
-- Effective communication.
-- Pooling resources at times has been a stretch and people were stretched, too.
-- Getting to know people takes time and the collaborative was faced with structural issues and finance concerns all at the same time.
-- I came back to Church when my children were born -- we need more things for young people.
-- Helping people, early on, to understand Disciples in Mission better.
-- We come together and build trust. We need to spread this across to the rest of the collaborative. ... bring people together to remind people how far we've come and how far we have to go.
Finances are often a challenge, but the biggest challenge, mentioned at almost every gathering, is concern over the health and well-being of the pastors and parochial vicars:
-- We don't want our priests to run out of energy.
-- I'm concerned about Father. He's always running. I'm afraid he's a candidate for heart attack.
The archdiocese is on a learning curve, listening, planning, and adapting. Disciples in Mission isn't easy and it isn't perfect, but with open minds, open hearts and, always and only with God's grace, we can move in the right direction.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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