Continuing toward their goal of unrolling a plan for parishes in the diocese in 2019 to prepare for the expected decline in the number of priests, members of the Diocesan Planning Council held meetings in each of the seven deaneries of the St. Cloud Diocese in November and early December.
More than 600 people attended the gatherings, including pastors, deacons, parish staff and parish and finance council members.
Similar to what was done with the priests this summer and in October at a Diocesan Ministry Day workshop, participants were asked to consider five questions individually and then to discuss their thoughts in small groups. The questions were:
- What does it mean to have “quality” parish life?
- What resources does a parish need to have that quality of life?
- How can we sustain 131 parishes with a projected 57 priests under the age of 70 as we look to the future?
- How do we maintain a Catholic presence in the 16 counties, 12,500 square miles, of the Diocese of St. Cloud?
- What makes your parish special?
Representatives from the small groups then summarized their discussion with the larger assembly. Recorders from the planning council collected the data, which will be compiled and reviewed by the council and discussed at an upcoming meeting early next year.
A summary of data collected from the gatherings also was shared with the Presbyteral Council (priests’ council) and the diocesan curia.
In addition, the planning council asked each deanery to identify a lay person to represent its deanery on the council.
The next step, said Rita Clasemann, chair of the planning council, is for pastors to go back to their parishes and provide detailed information to the communities, including parish and diocesan statistics as well as summaries of the meetings. Parishes will then be asked to offer “substantial recommendations” on possibilities for the future of their specific parish or parish cluster. The pastor will compile the recommendations and submit them to the planning council by May.
The council plans to review and work with the recommendations in the summer of 2018 to formulate a specific plan for the diocese. The council will then submit a proposal to Bishop Donald Kettler for his approval, which is expected by the fall of 2018. Implementation of the approved plan is anticipated by July 2019.
Here is a sampling of answers collected from the deanery meetings:
Q: What does it mean to have “quality” parish life?
Welcoming parish community, communication, transparency
Mass, good liturgy
Healthy finances, stability of life
School present and well attended
Availability of sacraments, evangelization and cooperation
Youth and adult religious education
Engagement of pastor in community
Multi-generational and multi-cultural
Sustainable community — growing population
Q: What resources does a parish need to have that quality of life?
Financial resources, faithful members
Clear vision, identity as a parish
Plan for sustainability
Leadership and organization
Q: How can we sustain 131 parishes with a projected 57 priests under the age of 70 as we look to the future?
More deacons and better use of their role in the church
Utilize technology and laity
Pray for vocations
Close parishes; openness to change
Help people realize church is more than a building
Reduce number of Masses
More parish life coordinators
Q: How do we maintain a Catholic presence in the 16 counties, 12,500 square miles, of the Diocese of St. Cloud?
Involve laity more
Mass daily, weekly, monthly, and special occasions split between parishes
Technology — utilizing internet, radio, TV Mass, diocesan app with local Mass times, video conferencing Mass into parishes
Re-education and understanding of “parish” — parish is not a building, it’s about coming together to worship Christ
Keep open, at all costs — closing makes it look like religion is not important
New structures (new buildings) to bring communities together (multiple parish communities), one church building within an area, study how far people are willing to travel. Larger community hub with several priests, who go out to smaller communities.
Q: What makes your parish special?
Full time staff — value of lay leadership
Financially healthy; maintained facilities.
Coming up …
The Visitor is developing an occasional series to help people of the diocese understand the causes and context driving the pastoral planning process. In January, look for an article that addresses basic questions such as: What is a parish? What is a diocese? What is a deanery? Why is the church organized this way? What does this mean for the planning process?