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Checking in with Phase II -- part 1

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An interesting thing happened when the group was asked about their challenges. The first few comments indeed mentioned challenges, but also mentioned their progress in overcoming them.

Susan
Abbott

Earlier this month clergy, staff, and key volunteers from Phase II collaboratives gathered at the Pastoral Center to share the successes and struggles of implementing their local pastoral plans (LPP). The 32 people from collaboratives in Abington/Whitman, Acton/Stow, Braintree, Hyde Park/Readville/Milton, Medfield/Norfolk, North Andover, Quincy, Saugus, Stoughton, and Wilmington were ready and willing to speak about the successes and challenges of this year.

Successes first. One pastor said that they are, "thrilled with the little lights of success that we see." Another collaborative that had not had a pastoral council for many years, went through a selection process and now has a functioning collaborative pastoral council.

Another collaborative spoke about "a big little thing: we changed the Mass schedule and the world didn't cave in!" Most people in the room agreed that this is significant. The speaker added that they gave parishioners about five months' notice before implementing the change.

Faith formation is a significant component of parish life -- collaborative or not. A pastor commented that combining the programs of the two parishes "has formed a sense of community in a relatively short time." Another collaborative re-structured their program and re-named it, now calling it "lifelong faith formation," underscoring the importance of formation for all ages. Their new design has an interchangeable schedule to make it easier for parents. They are still tweaking and refining as they go along, but notice that, "We have had whole families come back after years of being away because the buzz of the new program is out there."

Communication also ranks high on the list of collaborative goals. One LPP called for more unified communication and they've accomplished that, now with one collaborative bulletin and a new, regularly updated, website. Combining bulletins and websites is an effective, commonsense, way to streamline and unify communication.

A three-parish collaborative reported that their vocations crucifix is now at all three parishes, and people are responding to a priority in their LPP to start a bereavement ministry.

One collaborative is clarifying things that they were working on before their LPP, some of which are priorities in the plan. They are working hard to achieve financial stability, and have started a development committee. Their first meeting was well attended.

Collaboration may not be new in places where neighboring parishes have been doing things together for years, but sharing a pastor and leadership team is new and can take some getting used to. Expanding the parish family to include another parish family, can be hard. In some cases there is a fear of being assimilated into "the other" parish and there can be some mistrust of the process. Several people have noticed a change: A pastoral associate commented that in the past, she knew 99 percent of the people at Mass, now she doesn't and, "this tells me that people are open to changing churches." Parishioners are comfortable going to the other collaborative church if it better fits their schedule on a particular Sunday. A pastor agreed that he is seeing people at both churches in their collaborative.

An interesting thing happened when the group was asked about their challenges. The first few comments indeed mentioned challenges, but also mentioned their progress in overcoming them.

A few people mentioned the challenge of bridging cultural -- not ethnic -- differences. In response, a staff member from another collaborative admitted, "In the beginning, there was lots of resistance." In response, they have started offering social events for families and adults, including Scripture groups that meet during the day. The events are held at different churches in their collaborative, and, "these things have helped." One pastor said, "Our approach was not to tamp down the different cultures but to invite everyone to everything -- not homogenize."

In one collaborative, groups that existed before the collaborative have a hard time integrating, but starting new groups and programs has been very successful. Almost the opposite is true in another collaborative where a recent ministry fair "raised awareness and helped us become connected. Being a collaborative strengthened ministries that were fading away." Summing it up, one pastor observed, "Parishes have different personalities" and the best advice for a pastor is "to just be yourself." Clearly, one size does not fit all.

There is no doubt that clergy, staff, and parishioners are working very hard. There was a great spirit of solidarity at the Pastoral Center meeting, and there's a lot more to tell. Stay tuned for part 2 -- after the New Year.

Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.

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