Bishop's Blog

Restructuring Our Parishes

Approximately two years ago the Diocesan Planning Commission began to identify the key planning issues and concerns that would impact the planning and operation of parishes within the Diocese of Calgary over the next five to ten years.

Part of their mandate was to collect all relevant data and to undertake the appropriate research that would be necessary for the full identification and understanding of identified issues and concerns, and then draw up a set of recommendations for the Bishop on strategic options and choices, preferred alternatives and an implementation plan after appropriate consultation.

We are now in the midst of receiving the fruits of the labour of the Diocesan Planning Commission. To avoid some of the potential acrimony and divisiveness witnessed in other jurisdictions as they attempt to bring about transformative change, I want to spell out some the visionary elements driving our planning initiatives in the Diocese of Calgary.

I. Framework for Diocesan Planning

In most human institutions, change either occurs by evolutionary transition or by planned efforts to enhance the functioning, impact, and service of that institution to its members. A number of key considerations in regard to parish planning and development can be identified:

  • an ad hoc task specific approach to parish planning is not likely to be adequate in supporting future parish planning and development in increasingly complex urban communities
  • there is considerable variation between parishes in regard to the level and quality of lay involvement, ministry availability, financial stability, leadership approaches, overall parish performance and member needs and expectations
  • the availability and profile of parish priests is changing n population shifts and demographic profile changes are influencing and will continue to influence the future development of parishes in the dioces
  • parish physical plant costs and improvements need further systematic analysis and planning relative to the large amounts of financial resources they are absorbing
  • it is a given and must be respected as such, i.e. 11% of any sociological group will resist change.

II. Planning Strategies:

  • to operate parishes that increasingly reflect the character and needs of their members and their surrounding communities and which meet a minimum level of quality and scope of liturgies and programs to which any Catholic person should have access to across the diocese
  • to expand the opportunities for spiritual leadership in parishes through a comprehensive program of priestly vocational promotion in the parishes, through the institution of a permanent diaconate program and through the mandating of more laity for parish ministry service
  • to provide the training necessary to support the changing roles and responsibilities of the laity and clergy as well as new initiatives to enhance the program and administrative operations of the parishes
  • to develop and implement a more systematic parish planning, development and evaluation program within the diocese
  • to update and implement policies and more formalized approaches and monitoring processes related to capital projects and statistical planning data

III. The Diocesan-Parish Relationship

A diocese is that portion of God's people which is entrusted to a Bishop to be shepherded or nurtured by him with the cooperation of the presbyterium, in such a way that, remaining close to its pastor and gathered together by him through the gospel and the Eucharist in the Holy Spirit, it constitutes a particular Church. In this Church, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ truly exists and functions." (CL 369)

Each diocese is to be divided into distinct parts or parishes. Nevertheless, within the boundaries of a diocese, prime consideration must be given to the organic unity of the diocese, whose personnel, offices, and institutions must operate like a properly functioning body. All priests, both diocesan and religious, participate in and exercise with the bishop the one priesthood of Christ and are thereby meant to be prudent co-operators of the Episcopal order.

A parish is a dependent entity. As vibrant or dormant as it may be, a parish always remains one piece of a single, essential integrating reality, which is the life and mission of the local church, the diocese. Finally, all the structural arrangements of the parish need to be judged on whether they enable that local community to contribute effectively and vitality to the life and mission of the People of God of the Diocese.

In fact the temptation for many people will be to focus only on their own local interests and concerns, so much so that if they are asked to think of the less fortunate members of the local Church - whether these be the economically poor, or teenage mothers, or inner-city parishes, or small rural communities, or new immigrants - the exhortation tends to get translated into "the Chancery Office (or Pastoral Centre) is interfering" or the "the Bishop wants to take our money." Someone once called this the "rancher mentality"; the attitude is that you string barbed wire around your ranch and I'll string it around mine. We can all be friends, but don't cross my fence. It seems that all the parochialisms that characterize our cultural reality are present in our attitudes toward one another within the Church.

The most daunting structural task we have is to see ourselves in solidarity with other parish communities in our pastoral zone or area, and within the context of the larger local or diocesan church. A parish is not an autonomous, self-made entity, free to determine whether or not it will be and work in communion with the total network of communities that makes up the communion of the local church. This transformation of consciousness is a work of changing self-identity - a fundamental rethinking of who we are as a local church.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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