According to a Native legend
The chief of a certain tribe lay dying. He called his three sons to him. “My sons, I am dying. Soon one of you will succeed me as chief. I want each of you to climb our ancestors’ holy mountain and bring back something beautiful. The one whose gift is most precious will become chief.”
Several days later the three returned from their journeys. The first brought a flower that was extremely rare and beautiful. The second brought back a stone of precious gold.
But the third son said, “Father, I have brought back nothing. As I stood at the top of the holy mountain, I saw that on the other side was a land of fertile green pastures and crystal waters. I could imagine our people settling there and establishing a better life. I was so taken by what I saw and what I was thinking that I had to return here before I could find something to bring back.”
The old chief smiled and said to his third son, “You will be chief, for you have brought us the gift of vision for a better future.”
In their report, the Diocesan Planning Commission offers us a vision for a better future. Among its many recommendations, we find the following three: that Holy Name Parish begin to dialogue with St. James Parish for possible twinning in the future; St. Anthony Parish continue dialogue with St. Gerard Parish to prepare for possible twinning within three to five years; St. Bernadette Parish continue dialogue with St. Cecilia’s Parish for possible twinning within the next three to five years.
It is uncertain at this point whether we will need to engage in further twinning of parishes in the next few years. I hope not. Nevertheless, the recommended dialogue must continue anyway.
We have modified much in terms of the structure of our pastoral care delivery system but we also need to change attitudes within the communities we worship in.
As part of the planning process, each parish was invited and encouraged to do a self-study, to assess its vitality and vibrancy as a manifestation of parish life that the universal Church and our diocese envisioned. This involved structural criteria set for the community as a whole and for the roles of oversight, decision sharing and staffing, reflected in the original roles of the bishop, the presbyterium and the diaconate.
Functional criteria were developed from the traditional descriptions of the ministry the Church used at Vatican II: kerygma or proclamation of the Word, the embodiment of the Word in community, worship, and service.
We also utilized supportive criteria in terms of adequacy of numbers of people, availability of financial resources and suitability of facilities.
As a result, we are in a position to know and proclaim what most gives life to our parishes. Our parishes have identified their best resources and greatest examples of vibrancy. They have also discerned those areas where they hope to enhance parish vitality.
There are wonderful examples of collaboration that have increased the vibrancy of parish life in some churches. Several which come to mind are programs that are organized and run jointly or regionally such as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, youth ministries, marriage preparation, other sacramental preparation, separated and divorce ministry, adult education/speakers series and community outreach (also national and international outreach). A single parish might find it difficult or impossible to offer a full range of programs and services alone or whose quality is greatly improved when done collaboratively; sharing a pastoral or youth minister (which neither parish could support by itself); and coordinated mass schedules in an area (which eliminates duplicate times and liturgies).
Vibrant parish life is best achieved through the collaborative efforts of several ministries and communities in an area. These ministries will often permeate parish boundaries. Such collaboration utilizes and preserves the different gifts of each parish; but it also relieves the burdens of some and promotes the faith and life of the faithful throughout the diocese.
Growth and decline situations are not an urban, ethnic or administrative problem alone, but they involve the whole diocese. As St. Paul reminds us, we need each other, as each part of the body needs every other part. “If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be the weaker are all the more necessary.” [1Cor.12:19ff]
Ours is a family challenge that demands the prayer and cooperation of the entire family. I want to invite all the parishes of our diocese to reconsider its responsibilities for parish life in an area wider than its boundaries. I realize that some may feel that their parish has everything it needs, so why bother with this line of thinking. I want to emphasize that we are called to give witness to a “Catholic vision” of parish life and unity, not simply a “congregational perspective.” Each parish has something to give, and each has something to receive.
Accordingly, I urge each parish community to enter into study and dialogue with at least one other parish ideally one that touches on your parish boundaries. Dialogue topics can include:
- Recall the history and founding of the respective parishes
- Examine the rich ethnic, racial, liturgical and spiritual variety of the respective communities
- Identify the similarities, the duplications and even the contradictions that exist between your parishes
- Look at your various ministries and share the results of your self-studies
The goal of this shared consultation is for each parish to identify a parish that they can cooperate with most naturally and begin to develop cooperative initiatives to build a stronger faith filled community.
Some may simply build upon an existing relationship and successful cooperation, and in other cases a new relationship may be formed. For all of us, this would be an experience of communion—growing together in Christ.
☩ Frederick Henry