Although smaller than the Archdiocese of Boston, Scranton faces the same concerns: dwindling number of active priests available to pastor parishes, and, finding ways to grow parish communities.
Catherine Butel, Diocesan Secretary for the Office of Parish Life in Scranton, Pa., stopped by the Pastoral Center recently to discuss collaboration; in Scranton, they speak of linkages and partnerships. Her interest in what is happening in Boston springs from her focus on helping Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera realize his vision of instilling a sense of renewal within their diocese's parishes.
Bishop Joseph Bambera was appointed Bishop of Scranton in February, 2010. On Pentecost, 2011, he issued the pastoral letter "Wounded and Loved, Regathering the Scattered -- A Pastoral Vision for the Church of Scranton:" Bishop Bambera wrote: "I think you will agree that the call of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for a 'new evangelization' is of the utmost importance here and now. ... Evangelization ... is not a program, but a way of life for each member of the Church. ...Through faith and baptism in Jesus Christ, each of us is called to grow in holiness and grace. Each of us is called to evangelize others with zeal and joy through the witness of one's life in word, worship and service that builds up the community."
In an interview in the Scranton Times-Tribune, Mrs. Butel said, "I read Bishop Bambera's pastoral letter, and I was mesmerized from the moment I started reading. It was expressive of a grasp of the Gospel that I felt a resonance with." Mrs. Butel applied for the Parish Life position in Scranton, was hired, and the Butel family moved from Kansas to Scranton. She began her work in May 2012, overseeing a staff of 15. The Office is responsible for Lay Ministry Formation, as well as "resourcing and program development in all areas of parish life: Word, Worship, Service, and Community," and parish pastoral council formation. She describes it as "an integrated department with all parish services." Pastoral planning in the diocese is looking closely at pastoral leadership and they are working to "mobilize the gifts of the laity."
The Diocese of Scranton is spread over 11 counties with 137 active priests, and a Catholic population of approximately 350,000. Between 2007 and 2012, 200 parishes were consolidated to 120 through an intensive restructuring process. In April, Bishop Bambera addressed the future staffing of parishes, and asked all of the faithful in the diocese to participate in a dialogue about options for pastoral leadership. "In less than 10 years, the ranks of our 137 active priests will diminish by approximately 40 men, due to retirement, sickness and other circumstances... While many significant efforts are being made to identify and encourage candidates for the priesthood, the current reality makes it clear that we must consider carefully the options that the Church provides for us in order to maintain the life and ministry of our current 120 parishes. ...it is our intent to nurture, sustain and grow our current parish communities. ... I need to involve you in the conversation about how we might best respond to one challenge that we face -- the diminishing numbers of priests to fulfill roles of pastoral leadership." Although smaller than the Archdiocese of Boston, Scranton faces the same concerns: dwindling number of active priests available to pastor parishes, and, finding ways to grow parish communities. And, as Boston did in our 2012 parish consultation process, Scranton is asking for input, suggestions, and, most of all prayers as they plan for the future.
Bishop Bambera reminded his diocese that, "By baptism, we are called to be evangelizers or, as St. Paul said, 'ambassadors for Christ.'" Mrs. Butel's hope is that more and more parishioners will recognize this call and come forward for formation to be effective evangelizers and leaders in their parishes. The work of evangelization and building strong, stable, parishes is work that crosses diocesan and state borders. As we plan for the future, we share our hopes and ideas with Scranton and other dioceses, and we build networks of prayer.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS EVANGELIZATION ASSOCIATE, OUR LADY OF GOOD VOYAGE SHRINE.