Shaping our Future Together — 2024 Pastoral Letter

Pastoral Letter
Most Reverend W. Shawn McKnight, S.T.D.
Bishop of Jefferson City

Shaping our Future Together:

Parishes on Mission Together as Communities of the Beatitudes

To the laity, members of institutes of consecrated life, 
and the clergy of the Diocese of Jefferson City: 
Greetings in the Name of our Lord, who brings glad tidings to the poor.


1. The clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Jefferson City gather today to celebrate the Chrism Mass as an expression of the unity of the ministerial priesthood and the local Church in the Holy Spirit. The Scripture passage from today’s Gospel has our Lord reading and preaching from a passage of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Luke 4:18). With an economy of words, the Lord summed up his entire mission with: “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4: 21). 

2. As baptized and anointed members of the Church, we are “another Christ” as individuals and corporately the Body of Christ; thus, our mission is also to bring glad tidings to the poor. The holy oils we bless and consecrate today assist us to fulfill our mission by preparing, healing, strengthening and enriching all who need the Gospel. On this occasion, I am happy to issue this pastoral letter to formally promulgate the diocesan and deanery pastoral plans, which are the result of a process of synodal discernment and reflection on where we have been and where we are called to be as the Roman Catholic Church in central and northern Missouri.

A Steward’s Journey and the Synod on Synodality 

3. We have recently completed the pastoral plan issued in our previous pastoral letter, A Steward’s Journey: A Call to Greater Communion, in which we focused on the themes of the spirituality of stewardship, co-responsibility and parishes as centers of charity and sanctuaries of mercy. Our pastoral letter took inspiration from the Emmaus story in Luke’s Gospel, the communion of the Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles, and the dream of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for the parish as described in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (no. 28). Each parish discerned their own pastoral plans using the Better Together process. From the various parish pastoral plans, the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Presbyteral Council proposed diocesan-level goals and activities to assist the parishes in the fulfillment of their own plans.

4. Working more intently and strategically together, our efforts have borne much pastoral fruit: 

  • Over the last three years, three cohorts of parishes went through a conversion process from Catholic Stewardship Appeal to a parish-focused renewal of stewardship commitments of time, talent and treasure. Small faith-sharing group activities and other catechetical efforts accompanied the parishes through this transition, focusing on the spirituality of stewardship and away from an annual diocesan financial appeal. Now, the entire diocese is on the parish-based stewardship renewal process. We are already seeing the fruits of renewal in more engagement by more parishioners. 
  • In the implementation of their individual parish plans, some discovered difficulties in accomplishing their goals and developed a desire and greater openness to collaborating with neighboring sister parishes.
  • A new Catholic Charities center was opened in Jefferson City to serve both the local community and the entire diocese, especially through a newly-established fund to provide Charity and Mercy Grants to diocesan parishes for charitable works.
  • The renovation and rededication of our beloved Cathedral by the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, with the Bishops of the Missouri Province and other Bishops from our region in attendance was one for the record books. It was an uplifting spiritual experience of renewal for our local Church, one that we will fondly remember and celebrate each year. It was a tangible experience of the bond between the Local and Universal Church.

It has been a time of great missionary renewal for our diocese, rooted in “the teachings of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

5. Since our last pastoral planning process, the Holy Father called for a three-year process of listening, dialogue and consultation of the People of God for the Synod on Synodality. Two rounds of listening sessions were held in our diocese on the Synod’s themes of communion, participation and mission, with an emphasis on structures of co-responsibility in the second round. These synodal themes relate well to our themes of stewardship (participation), communion (co-responsibility) and mission (parishes as centers of charity and sanctuaries of mercy).

In parallel to the Synod on Synodality and based on the experience of the parishes in the implementation of their first pastoral plans, a discernment process was initiated at the level of the deanery to discern how to help the pastoral conversion of the parishes through greater collaboration in the fulfillment of their evangelizing missions. This process of discernment, Shaping Our Future Together (SOFT), continues to bear fruit as we enter this new pastoral planning period. 

6. In February, about 300 Catholics in our diocese engaged in a listening session which focused on the importance of co-responsibility and ways our current Church structures support or detract from our shared mission. Many respondents expressed appreciation for the ability to engage more in parish life, especially through the renewal of stewardship and in small faith-sharing groups. They also were able to identify moments of charity and mercy in specific programs in their parishes. 

Many also asked, “Where are the next generations of volunteers and leaders?” We know this is not unique to our diocese, but the stark reality is that the Church needs new, younger people to take the helm in so many places in our parishes. Finding ways to invite people who may feel unwelcomed, under-qualified or unsuitable for whatever reason, is at the heart of what it means “to bring glad tidings to the poor.”

The Beatitudes

7. Our new pastoral plans will serve in continuity with the previous plans, deepening our mission as a synodal local Church along the themes of the spirituality of stewardship, co-responsibility and parishes as centers of charity and sanctuaries of mercy. Our Lord gives greater specificity regarding how “to bring glad tidings to the poor” in the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 5: 1-12): 

When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

8. The various Beatitudes given are forms of the first and fundamental Beatitude, “poverty of spirit,” which brings salvation to those who embrace it. All of them are moments that draw the Holy Spirit to us and when we are closest to God (hence, they are true “Beatitudes” or “blessed opportunities” that bring a deeper meaning to life and spiritual satisfaction like nothing else). Those who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst, who are merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers and who suffer persecution all experience a poverty of spirit, which comes with its own blessing.

9. Our Lord provides the perfect example of the Beatitudes in his own life and ministry. The many ways in which he gave himself, culminating in his Passion, Death and Resurrection, manifests how he was perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect. We, however, are struggling disciples who are on the path of conversion to live out and embrace the Beatitudes more readily and fully in our lives. Whenever we follow the Lord’s command to take up our cross daily and follow him, or to die to ourselves like a grain of wheat, we experience the most meaning in our lives as Christians and are closest to the Lord, receiving all the blessings of the kingdom. 

The Beatitudes thus stand as key moments in people’s lives that draw the attention and consolation of the Holy Spirit. As “another Christ” and the Body of Christ, we too, both individually and as a community of believers, should be drawn to all individuals who are in the throes of one or more of the Beatitudes, just as our Lord was. The pillars of stewardship, especially hospitality and service, support these evangelizing efforts. We fulfill our mission as Church only when we become a community of the Beatitudes wherein we accompany those who grieve the death of a loved one with the Church’s funeral rites; when we foster reconciliation in peacemaking and the practice of mercy; when we stand in solidarity with those pushed to the margins of society because their human dignity is not fully acknowledged; we are true disciples of the Lord when we exhibit the gift of fortitude when persecuted for the sake of the Gospel. We should avoid at all costs any appearance of mere commercial transactions whenever we provide services as a Church for anyone marked by the Beatitudes.

10. Just as we are on paths of individual conversion to a life of the Beatitudes, so we are on a synodal path as the Church together, at times imperfect in our communion, participation and mission, but assured and guaranteed the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Our pastoral plans can be the means by which we become a community of the Beatitudes as we are centers of charity and sanctuaries of mercy.

Shaping Our Future Together (SOFT) Pastoral Plans

11. When we began the Shaping Our Future Together process, we recognized seven values which were essential to our discernment:

  1. The sacraments are accessible and celebrated well.
  2. The parish is known for its hospitality and welcoming spirit.
  3. We prioritize the well-being of our clergy and the need to prevent burnout among them.
  4. We abide by canon law and current Church teaching. There will be no “discerning” the changing of Church teaching to accommodate the lack of resources.
  5. We provide good faith formation for our children, youth and young adults, and families; and we build a culture of lifelong formation for all our adults.
  6. We are good stewards of the human and financial resources within the deanery. We cannot expect people to perform professional services in the work of the Church without just compensation.
  7. We fulfill the mission of our diocese, as defined in our diocesan pastoral plan, by: 
    1. Promoting the engagement of all parishioners in the mission of the parish through a stewardship way of life;
    2. Fostering a culture of co-responsibility, in which there is a mutual respect for the differing roles of the laity and clergy in the life and mission of the Church;
    3. Strengthening the parish’s capacity as a center of charity and sanctuary of mercy.

12. I am also committing the resources of our entire diocese to support these deanery pastoral plans. Specifically, I am pledging:

  • To strengthen our ability to engage in “synodal listening,” which can also be identified as Christian discernment, and which is necessary in the changing environment of our American culture.
  • To create structures which allow lay people to provide insights and engage in pastoral work in their current parish, in inter-parish settings, and in diocesan-wide initiatives.
  • To provide lay people with the necessary formation so they can properly exercise their responsibilities in the Church.

13. In considering the pastoral plans for each deanery and our diocese, I ask for the commitment from each Catholic in our diocese to seriously reflect on how they could be recognized as a Catholic Christian, and furthermore, what their role is in helping to make these plans a reality. To assist all of us in being able to partake in Shaping Our Future Together, we are providing material which small faith-sharing groups and parish councils or committees can use. Everyone is also asked to prayerfully consider how they and their families can engage more deeply in a stewardship spirituality by becoming more engaged in their parishes.


14. As we observe this special year of Eucharistic Revival for our nation, we look forward to hosting the Eucharistic Pilgrimage and participating in the National Eucharistic Congress this summer. Our observance of these Eucharistic events will emphasize the Eucharist as the Sacrament of Charity, in whose Real Presence our own presence is sustained in the mission of the Church and with our Eucharistic Lord. May our diocesan patroness, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, intercede for us as we implement Shaping Our Future Together so that we may become a more synodal local Church, a devout Eucharistic people, and a gentle community of disciples in which the Beatitudes are lived and embraced. 

15. As we seek the pastoral conversion of our parishes, deaneries and diocese through the present pastoral plans, and as we look forward to the preparations for a future diocesan synod, let us entrust our Local Church to the Holy Trinity in prayer: 

Heavenly Father,
Send your Holy Spirit upon us
to inflame our hearts and enlighten our minds
as baptized members
of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church
present in the Diocese of Jefferson City.
Help us to discern Your holy will for our Church
as the Body of Christ in the world.
May we shape our future together
by embracing our mission
to be sanctuaries of mercy
and centers of charity.
Open our hearts and minds
so that the parish communities
will thrive in the spirituality of stewardship
and with a culture of co-responsibility.
May we be ever more strongly united
in our Catholic faith, prayer and communal life.
This we ask through Christ our Lord.

Given at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, Jefferson City, on the 26th day of March in the year of Our Lord 2024, my seventh year as Bishop of Jefferson City.