Pastoral planning process: a time of discernment, discovery
By Bishop W. Shawn McKnight
This Advent, many Catholics throughout our diocese will be participating in a four-session program called “A Steward’s Way.”
We’ll be meeting in small groups in our parishes (and others will be meeting in our closed Facebook group) to reflect on our gratitude to God for the gifts of family and friends, our Church, our communities and our world.
Sounds like other faith-sharing small groups, right? But “A Steward’s Way” is unique, in that this is the beginning of a pastoral planning process for our diocese. How does sharing one’s faith connect to pastoral planning? Pastoral planning is different from other kinds of planning processes which many may have experienced. Our focus is on discernment, that Christian discipline in which we attempt to listen to God’s dream for us, which guides us to make a discovery that can lead to future action.
Since we are Catholics, we want to center that discernment process within our parishes. The outcome of the diocesan pastoral planning process will be a discernment, a discovery, of what God wants for our parishes.
I believe these sentences from Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel” are key to helping us hear God’s plan for our parishes: “The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.’” (“Joy of the Gospel,” No. 28)
We can never assume that because our parishes have existed in one manner, they are always going to be that way. Instead, our parishes must adapt and change to meet the needs and hopes of our people, especially for future generations.
In my discernment which has led to me calling for this pastoral planning process, I have realized three foci on which we need to build this planning process:
- Creating a culture of co-responsibility between the clergy and laity, in accord with the Second Vatican Council’s teachings;
- Raising awareness of the spirituality of stewardship as essential for all disciples; and
- Increasing our parishes’ capacity as centers of charity and mercy.
Our Advent sessions will give us a deeper understanding of the spirituality of stewardship. As Christian stewards, we receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibility, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.
During Lent 2020, we will delve into our responsibilities in renewing our parishes so that, as Pope Francis reminds us, they are truly “the presence of the Church in a given territory.”
While our Sunday Liturgies are the source and summit of our worship, our parishes must also be centers of charity and mercy.
“This presumes that [the parish] really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few,” Pope Francis writes.
Nor can we have a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to what makes a parish “a center of constant missionary outreach.” It will require each of us, in prayerful discernment with one another, to discover what that means. Indeed, not only are we better together, but the only way we can be Catholic is by being together.
During Lent 2020, you’ll be invited to discern, along with other parishioners, what needs to change, what needs to be strengthened and what may need to be set aside so that your parish can be “nearer to people, … environments of living communion and participation … and … completely mission-oriented.”
Your insights will be provided to your parish councils, who will bring this information to our Diocesan Pastoral Council in September 2020 and the priests of our diocese in October 2020.
I hope each of us find this planning process to be fruitful, both for our own individual growth, but also in becoming a more active participant in one’s parish. Together, we will be a better Church, both now and for future generations.