Program #0374 for Friday, September 14, 2012: Disciples in Mission: A Pastoral Plan Proposal

September 14, 2012

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Disciples in Mission:  A Pastoral Plan Proposal

Disciples in Mission: A Pastoral Plan Proposal

Summary of today’s show: The Archdiocese of Boston is looking to the future and planning for the work of the New Evangelization. The Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission has forwarded its final proposal of a pastoral plan, entitled “Disciples in Mission”, to Cardinal Seán. Scot Landry talks with Fr. Paul Soper, interim director of pastoral planning, and Michael Lavigne about the proposal’s history, the massive consultation that took place with tens of thousands of Catholics, the proposal’s historic recommendations, and the hope for the future found in its pages.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Paul Soper, interim director for Pastoral Planning, and Michael Lavigne, special assistant to the Episcopal Vicar for the New Evangelization

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Today’s topics: Disciples in Mission: A Pastoral Plan Proposal

1st segment: Scot Landry said today’s show is very important as they dive into the compenents and recommendations of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Commission’s proposal to Cardinal Sean. Today’s guests are Fr. Paul Soper and Michael Lavigne.

Scot asked Fr. Paul about the the work that led to thie proposal that went to Cardinal Sean two weeks ago. Fr. Paul said Cardinal Seán formed a formed a commission several years ago led by Fr. George Evans. That commission determined that a substantial pastoral plan was needed for the Archdiocese. In 2011 Cardinal Seán brought together a commission of 19 people to consider welcoming Catholics in to the active life of the faith; strengthening parishes; focusing on evangelizationl developing excellence in religious formation. They decided to start by focusing on the second objective because parishes are the natural unit of life in the Church. Scot said any pastoral plan has to work through the parishes because it’s where we gather and live out our live in the Church, after the family.

Fr. Paul said the commission spent a year looking at all sorts of ways to strengthen parishes. In December 2011, they presented a rough proposal to the priests of the archdiocese and got a lot of feedback and that started an historic moment in the Archdiocese. People at all levels of the life of the parishes met in 40 different meetings with about 5,000 people throughout the Archdiocese. They also collected eletronic feedback. About 200 parishes held open meetings and they were attended by about 20,000 people. They received about 8,000 pages of feedback.

Scot said the first rough proposal had some ideas that were not supported by all the priests or the people attending the consultations. Fr. Paul said the original proposal was going to move all the priest because they thought it would be better for the collaboratives as they start out so that one parish would seem to be keep its own pastor. But the people expressed very strongly that they believed their priests were capable of overcoming that challenge and not letting this happen.

The people were insistent that this could not be a cookie-cutter plan, but recognize the differences from parish to parish, with different cultures, and not just ethnic cultures. So the proposal now has a central recommendation that the collaboratives as they are inaugurated over five years that they come up with local pastoral plans for that collaborative for how they will go out and become a welcoming community.

Scot said one of the key questions became personal and what will become of their parish. Fr. Paul said the document Disciples in Mission sets forward the collaborative model, with one pastor, one pastoral team, one pastoral council, and one finance council serving multiple parishes in collaboration. But it does not set forward a list of proposed collaboratives. A list went out about nine months ago and it’s been re-written over and over and they are still working on it.

Scot said a lot of people may have a bad memory of reorganization in 2004, which was about restructing and merging and suppressing parishes. Fr. Paul said this plan respects the integrity of individual parishes. They retain their own finances, their own name, their own canonical status, their own obligations. If two parishes are in a collaborative and one parish needs a new roof, the other parish is not required to pay for the repair.

This pastoral plan recognizes we’re at a crossroads. This is the moment to choose. We could give up and resign ourselves to being a small church with an uncertain future. But this pastoral plan recognizes we have the precious gift of Jesus Christ handed onto us through the centuries. This is of value not just to us, but to the whole world. We have a responsibility to proclaim the Good News to the world.

Scot asked how that vigor was expressed by everyday Catholics? Fr. Paul said they didn’t have the evangelization piece ready for the consultations, but almost everyone responded to those meetings that the evangelization piece was forgotten and it was heartening to see that there was near unanimous demand for including evangelization in the plan.

Fr. Paul said the hiring of Michael Lavigne for the Episcopal Vicar for the New Evangelization was a key aspect of that and Michael and Fr. Paul meet on a regular basis.

Scot said one of the reasons Michael was hired was that he had experience in the Diocese of Portland, Maine, which went through a similar process that is envisioned here. He asked some of what they did in the diocese of Portland.

Michael said when he arrived in Portland, they had the planning process underway, recognizing they needed to be doing more evangelization. One change was that they created 29 clusters spread throughout the whole state of Maine. Bishop Malone had issued a pastoral letter emphasizing the importance of the New Evangelization and when they finished the process of restructuring all the parishes, the goal would be to be better equipped to evangelize. The Office of Lifelong Faith Formation was formed to provide training and support for these 29 clusters to put these ideas into practice.

Scot said Boston is putting training in place before the grouping of parishes. Fr. Paul said the training is central to the pastoral plan and has six stages. The first stage of training is for people involved in the work of the central ministries of the Archdiocese, in leadership and management skills, the mechanics of collaboration, and the theology and practice of the New Evangelization. This will equip them to help the parishes./

Michael said Pope Benedict’s writings on the New Evangelization is able to explain it in a simple way. In training they will learn that this is about conversion and a relationship with Christ. The New Evangelization is first for us, to be more converted. It’s also about the Person of Christ, the Savior of the World. Scot said it took him about six months of hearing about New Evangelization to understand that the first step was his own conversion.

Michael said the New Evangelization is not just about massive conference or organizations. But Pope Benedict said it’s about the mustard seed, about one person at a time. It’s about the call to holiness, which gives us the grace we need.

Scot said another part of the training is in leadership and change management. Priests have been asking for all the training to be effective leaders and pastors. Fr. Paul said they the question, how important is training for the process. There was an overwhelmingly positive response. They had similar response of people being willing to participate. Scot said Cardinal Seán is very committed to making sure this training is done right.

Fr. Paul said they will be working with the Catholic Leadership Institute, which has programs for priests called Good Leaders, Good Shepherd and for laypeople called Tending the Talents. They will provide the leadership and management training. Scot said he notes how enthusiastic CLI is about the boldness of this plan.

The nex aspect of training is the practical aspects of managing two or more parishes. Fr. Paul said the finance councils will be asked to develop budgets for collaboratives instead of just one parish, for example. There are property management and canon law issues as well.

2nd segment: Fr. Paul said they have already presented the proposal to the Presbyteral Council, representing all the priests of the Archdiocese. They gave their unanimous recommendation to present the proposal to Cardinal Sean. This was the 16th time the planning commission had met with the council as they developed the proposal and in the end they wanted to give unanimous support.

They also presented it to the Cardinal’s Cabinet and they too gave their unanimous approval. Fr. Paul said they still hear concerns, which is about how to implement and not such much in the substance of the proposal.

There is an expectation that they will hear back from Cardinal Seán about mid-November on whether he wants it put forward for implementation or if he wants it worked on some more. They will begin training of Pastoral Center staff as early as January 2013. They would also put forward the first 10 to 15 collaboratives around the same time and announce the pastors of those collaboratives in the early spring.

Michael said it will be daunting and challenging but it will be doable as long we keep focused and work together.

Scot now got into the specifics of the proposal.

That the 288 parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston be organized into approximately 135 Parish Collaboratives, these collaboratives consisting usually of two or three parishes, but sometimes only one, and, in rare occasions four parishes.

Fr. Paul said they chose this number because they felt this would result in the right size of a collaborative for a pastor to be able to have an ideal relationship with the whole community. They also didn’t want them to be too big and spread the resources too thin. Scot made clear that the 288 parishes remain distinct. Fr. Paul said this is because they recognize the importance of the parish as the normal and ideal place of evangelization and for communal Catholic life. People love their parishes and they want to respect that as much as possible. Scot said we want to have a church footprint in this diocese to support 80% attendance and if we close parishes we wouldn’t have enough churches for growth.

The second recommendation:

That the formation of the parish collaboratives be phased in, with appropriate flexibility, over a period of five years. a. Phase One would consist of at least fifteen collaboratives, geographically distributed among the regions of the archdiocese. b. Phase Two would begin a year later than Phase One, with a significant number of collaboratives. c. Phase Three would begin two years later than Phase Two, again with a significant number of collaboratives. d. Phase Four would begin either one or two years later than Phase Three, and would complete the implementation.

Fr. Paul said they decided on a modest phase one that includes all the different kinds of collaboratives and parishes so that they can learn how to do this and see what works and what doesn’t. Then phase two will be 50 collaboratives over two years. Same with phase three. And then phase four will be the rest. If it all starts next year, phase four would start in 2018.

The third and fourth recommendations:

That the parishes of each collaborative be assigned one single Pastor. … That the pastor form the staff members serving the parishes of the collaborative into a Pastoral Team

Fr. Paul said 20 percent of our parishes already have one pastor serving multiple parishes. What often happens is a pastor gets sick or dies and the Cardinal asks a nearby pastor to take over, which is a reactive process. Instead, this is proactive in which they make sure the groupings are right, that they have a timetable so everybody knows what’s happening and when, that there is a single team with the same mission as the pastor supporting him, and that they have sufficient training specific for multiple parish pastoring and for the New Evangelization.

Scot noted that the assignment of pastors received the most feedback. The proposal now recommends that the assignment of the most suitable pastor be paramount:

We recommend that, while being very respectful of the particular needs of the priests of the Archdiocese, the Archbishop of Boston give, 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 Commission recommends that religious and laity, as well as clergy, be formally involved in the assignment process of pastors. It further recommends the return to the consultation process that was used in parishes in anticipation of the assignment of a new pastor.

Recommendations fice, six and seven involve the collaboration of pastoral staffs and pastoral and finance councils, including:

That the pastor, pastoral team, and councils of each parish collaborative participate in extensive theological and practical training for the New Evangelization preference to the goal of evangelization in every assignment of a pastor to a collaborative.

Michael said it makes clear that the purpose is not just moving finances or buildings around, but preparing for the New Evangelization.

Scot said each collaborative would be required to have its own pastoral plan for its community. Fr. Paul said, for example, an appendix of the proposal is about religous education, but its up to each collaborative how to manage religious education,such as how to organize it. But it has to go beyond those aspects to go into how the collaborative will evangelize, write down, and keep revisiting that plan every year and live from that plan. Scot said we’re trying to be as proactive in our approach.

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