Strategic Plan puts more focus on collaboration and ‘best practices’ throughout archdiocese
One of the biggest benefits of the archdiocesan Strategic Plan announced in October 2010 has been something intangible but essential to strengthening local parishes and schools for the future, according to Father Peter Laird. archdiocesan vicar general.
It’s a growing appreciation that Father Laird said he has noticed among priests and laity that the church is bigger than their own parish or school, and that Catholics are called to work together to benefit the local church as it is embodied by the 12-county archdiocese.
“One of the great gifts we have is parishes and identities of parishioners wrapped around parishes, and that’s a great strength,” said Father Laird. “It can also be a great weakness if we fail to appreciate this great sense of ‘communio’ [communion] we share with the archbishop and the universal church.
“I think October 2010 marked a new transition in our culture in the more collaboration, better use available resources and facilitating “a culture in the archdiocese driven by best practice, driven by consistency and standards, all at the service of the Gospel.”
The plan to date
To mark the one-year anniversary, the archdiocese has posted a Strategic Plan update on the planning page of its website.
Among the summary’s highlights:
- As of October 2011, nine parishes have merged with six neighboring parishes under changes announced in the Strategic Plan. Another merger between two Minneapolis parishes — St. Philip and Ascension in Minneapolis — happened outside the Strategic Plan. Four of the remaining nine mergers have been appealed to the Holy See. (To read more about these mergers as well as other planning-related stories, visit TheCatholicSpirit.com and click on “Archdiocese Planning Process.”)
- The Strategic Plan identified 33 parishes to enter into new cluster relationships. As of July 1, 12 of those parishes either entered a new cluster or welcomed an additional parish to an existing cluster.
- The plan identifies 25 parishes for structured collaboration, meaning they are called to examine ways they could better collaborate with neighboring parishes, including more cooperation on programming and staffing. Many of these parishes may eventually move toward a cluster. These parishes will formally begin structured collaboration in 2012, but many have already begun cooperating on programming and in other areas.
- The effect of the parish structural changes, after implementation of all the announced mergers, including those pending appeals, is a total of 192 remaining parishes compared to 213 parishes in October 2010.
- With regard to Catholic schools, Archbishop John Nienstedt accepted recommendations Aug. 11 from the Catholic Schools Commission he appointed to promote best practices in four areas: governance, educational excellence, advancement and funding models. He also named inaugural members of the Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council, which recently had its first meeting. The council will assist the archbishop in implementing the recommendations.
- At the school and regional level, many school leaders began engaging in a structured sustainability review process during the 2010-2011 school year. Ten Catholic schools in the archdiocese underwent urgent sustainability reviews in late 2010 due to critical issues facing their school communities. Local leaders at three of those 10 “urgent review” schools chose to close their schools at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.
- Shared resources discussions between neighboring schools in several regions began in early 2011. The goal of these discussions is to determine how schools in a geographic area can best work together for academic excellence while strengthening the schools’ financial foundation.
In the next year, parishioners will continue to see a reinforcement of the idea that area Catholics, while maintaining their membership in individual parishes, are all part of one local church that encompasses the archdiocese, Father Laird said.
The emphasis will be apparent when the U.S. church introduces changes to Mass when the new Roman Missal is used beginning on the first Sunday of Advent.
“As we all make a transition to a new missal, I think this idea of being open to change and finding the good in change is something that is going to constantly be manifest — certainly first in the missal, but also as we begin to make reinvestments in the archdiocese in terms of adult education and youth ministry and Latino ministry,” Father Laird said.
The archdiocese has set up a vicariate structure with regional vicars to make parish visits, help with some administrative responsibilities, and facilitate better communication with priests and parishes. It has also created a Latino Ministry Advisory Council and Youth Ministry Advisory Council.
The archdiocese will continue to offer parishes assistance through the archdiocesan Parish Services Team to the extent parishes need help or request it, Father Laird said.
From the beginning of the planning process, which was prompted by many factors, including changing demographics and a decline in the number of priests available for ministry, the archdiocese has sought to garner input from the local Catholic community.
Father Laird co-chaired, with Father John Bauer of the Basilica of St. Mary, the Strategic Planning Task Force that gathered information for a year and a half before making planning recommendations to the archbishop in July 2010.
During that process and after, the archdiocese garnered views from thousands of pastors, parish and school leaders, and parishioners in regional meetings held throughout the archdiocese and through comments made via email, postal mail and telephone.
Father Laird said among the lessons he learned from the strategic planning process is that one can never communicate too much. And no process is perfect, he added, noting that some parts of the local process may have deserved even more attention.
“We could always do a better job of reverencing and respecting the personal experience that people have had of their parishes and to appreciate the challenge that change brings,” he said. “While that is a challenge, it also reflects an investment of the human heart in a particular place or in a particular way of doing things. And sometimes we could do better at reverencing that, even as we work toward bringing about the unity we seek.”
The archdiocese continues to receive feedback about the Strategic Plan, he said, and has attempted to adjust accordingly as the plan continues to unfold.
“We learned some things,” he said. “Maybe January mergers were not the best time to be doing mergers because you’re in the middle of a budget cycle and you’re at the middle of a liturgical season.”
On the positive side, he added, many pastors and parishioners said the changes weren’t as difficult as they thought they might be, and the plan has created “new opportunities for them in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel and the sharing of the faith.”
Father Laird said the strategic planning process has renewed his appreciation of how the church is called to respond to “the signs of the times.”
“We are making an investment now so that it can bear fruit for future generations,” he said. “Just as people did in this archdiocese a hundred years ago, and 50 years ago, it’s our responsibility and also our privilege to do that now. So, in that sense, we are part of a work larger than just the archdiocese. This is really the work of the church.”
Watch for more stories about the ongoing implementation of the archdiocesan Strategic Plan in future issues of The Catholic Spirit.