'In some ways Disciples in Mission means unlearning old patterns of simply going to church and coming home.'
We ended the report of the Phase II Implementation meeting talking about the challenges collaboratives faced/ face as they implement the local pastoral plans (LPP) that were approved by Cardinal Sean in June 2015.
A universal challenge is recruiting sufficient volunteers. Sister Patricia Boyle, CSJ, associate director of the Office of Pastoral Planning, facilitated the meeting and said, "In some ways Disciples in Mission means unlearning old patterns of simply going to church and coming home." A collaborative with a faith formation program of over 1,000 students labors to get enough catechists. The coordinator said, "We're running a small school system and need catechists... We're struggling to meet the needs of parents who are stretched thin. Parents are so busy -- we're living in a culture that is so busy."
One collaborative formed a development committee and devised a unique approach for recruiting members. The pastor told those who came to the first meeting, "If you want to be on the committee, come to the next meeting and bring someone with you. If you don't want to be on the committee, come to just the next meeting and bring two people. It worked!" A director of ministries shared another creative approach, "When someone presents a great idea, I say, 'Great idea. How do you want to be involved in that?'"
A permanent deacon working with the collaborative's confirmation students stresses that faith formation is lifelong. He keeps asking, "What's next?" The collaborative has seen a rise in teen volunteers. Another permanent deacon got a laugh when he confessed, "I'm delegating to save my life!"
The subject turned to rolling out the Local Pastoral Plans in the collaboratives. Introducing the plan at weekend liturgies, with clergy speaking about it, has been an effective way to show the finished product to parishioners. Most collaboratives post the plans on their websites. Collaboratives have distributed printed copies at Mass, had staff available after Mass to answer questions, and have held open meetings. One collaborative delayed their town meeting until the fall and then did a major presentation about moving from maintenance to mission mode. Another collaborative encountered some pushback about the structure of the plan: "too corporate, too business." Now, updates and information in the bulletin talk less about structure and more about the plan's pastoral priorities. A few collaboratives gathered wider staff and key volunteers first. One place invited all ministry leaders to a roll-out meeting with the writing team. "It was a bit disappointing when the first question from a ministry leader was: 'How're you gonna pay for it?'"
A pastor commented, "The idea of LPP is good but there has to be a looseness and flexibility to it. In one sense it has to develop organically and that happens when people feel hopeful about the Church. For the first 18 months, what seemed to be missing was the element of hope." Asked if this came from fear of closing, he replied, "Maybe partly fear of closure, but distrust too, and many things."
Discussion moved to a subtle challenge: "How to balance doing collaborative things and also attending to the work of building disciples?" Sister Pat emphasized the need to "be flexible. Focus on what you think is needed and give yourself permission to let some things go."
As busy as collaboratives are, most people agreed that making time for regular staff meetings and prayer is key to effective leadership and unity. This work won't be successful unless we call upon the Holy Spirit. One busy collaborative schedules two days a year, off-site, for prayer and reflection. They have built in more prayer time, more staff meetings, and often book discussion as a staff. "It was hard to find time, but it's really worth it." A member of a collaborative staff called this a luxury that her busy collaborative cannot implement. A lay staff member from another collaborative had felt the same way and was reluctant to schedule regular staff meetings, but, "The staff has insisted on weekly meetings with an agenda." The meetings are 30 minutes, and she admits that they are an important way to keep lines of communication open.
The meeting concluded with questions about the status of Phase I collaboratives, now in their third year, and the suggestion to bring Phase I and II together for a meeting. No one rushed for the door at the end of the meeting -- they enjoyed being with and hearing from others in their Phase II cohort. Keep them in prayer.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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