Planning task force aims for 'highly consultative' process

| April 2, 2009

Task force members have already begun collecting data for the archdiocesan-wide planning for parishes and schools that Archbishop John Nienstedt announced last week. They are expected to present the archbishop with recommendations in 12 to 18 months.

Members of the Strategic Task Force for Parish and School Planning in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis plan to meet at the deanery level with parish leaders, including pastors, trustees, and finance and pastoral council members. They will also consult with archdiocesan councils and organizations.

The members also plan to hold regional gatherings to gather input from parishioners and to help Catholics understand the need for this plan, said Jim Lundholm-Eades, director of the archdiocesan Parish Services Team.

The planning process

Already, the task force has surveyed pastors about their own parishes and is beginning to analyze the data.

“It’s a bottom-up and top-down process,” Lundholm-Eades said. “While you could say that finance is one of the key triggers to do it at this point in time, the response to that trigger has to come out of Catholic theology and the sense of “communio” in the archdiocese —?out of the sense of the call to be one in Christ.”

Public meetings will be announced in The Catholic Spirit and parish bulletins, he said. The archdiocese also will dedicate a phone line and e-mail address for gathering  feedback.

Lundholm-Eades, who is also a task-force member, expects the task force to hear from a broad group of people who have a lot to say, he said.

“Basically, at the end of the process, anybody who wants to have input should have had multiple opportunities and multiple means of being heard,” he said. “The voice part of it is essential to the process.”

Father John Bauer, pastor of the Basilica of St. Mary, is co-chair of the 16-member task force appointed by Archbishop Nienstedt. The other co-chair is Father Peter Laird, vice rector of St. Paul Seminary.

From his own experience helping the St. Paul parishes of St. Gregory, St. Therese and St. Leo merge to become Lumen Christi in 2005, Father Bauer knows how important it will be for the task force to communicate clearly and frequently with archdiocesan Catholics, he said.

Compelled by stewardship

Changing demographics and new financial realities have triggered the need for archdiocesan-wide parish and school planning, Lundholm-Eades said.

Good stewardship compels the archdiocese to begin planning at this time, Father Bauer said. “It’s a question of: How do we use well, to the best that we can, the resources  that we have available . . . to serve the needs of the people in the archdiocese?” he said, referring to finances, buildings, clergy and lay personnel.

“We’re doing God’s work, and God needs us to be good stewards of what he’s given us,” Lundholm-Eades added. “If we didn’t do this planning, we would fail as stewards of the gifts God has given to us.”

Although the preparation for the planning took place before the national economic downturn, the planning is fortuitous in light of it, Father Bauer said.

“[The economic downturn] focuses the issue a little more clearly,”?he said. “We don’t have all the financial resources that we would like to continue to operate all of our parishes the way they’ve been operated in the past.”

Currently stretched too thin

Archdiocesan leaders see parish re sour ces stretched more and more thinly, Lund holm-Eades said. The task force will look at how the archdiocese can best use its strengths to serve its growing number of Catholics.

There are currently more than 650,000 Catholics in the archdiocese, which is roughly 25 percent of the area’s population. From 1990 to 2000, the Catholic population increased about 17 percent, according to the?Glenmary Research Center in Tennessee.

That’s a a “pretty significant” statistic, Lundholm-Eades said. He attributes the growth largely to immigration.

The task force is not entering the consultation with any pre-existing assumptions about the plan’s results, said Lundholm-Eades. Parishes should also refrain from making assumptions about their futures at this time, he said.

However, the planning is sure to bring change, and it is likely that some parishes will cluster or merge, and some may close, he said. This is the archdiocese’s first comprehensive plan.

Although the planning process is to take about 18 months, the implementation may take several years, he said.

Archbishop Nienstedt announced the beginning of the planning process in a column in The Catholic Spirit March 26 and in parish bulletins the weekend of March 28-29. He identified seven basic principles to guide the planning. (See sidebar: “Archbishop Nienstedt’s planning principles.”)

Conversation about a comprehensive plan for parishes began several years ago, Lundholm-Eades said.

Archbishop Nienstedt spent the last year listening to parishes describe their gifts and needs, Lundholm-Eades said.

“[He] has rightly judged this as the right time to do a comprehensive look over the whole of the archdiocese,” he said.

The planning will involve both parishes and parish schools because their mission and finances are intertwined, Lundholm-Eades said. The process will be “highly consultative,” he said, involving clergy, parishioners, parish and school staff, immigrant communities and the “whole of the archdiocese.”

Father Bauer said his ultimate hope for the plan’s results is for sacramental ministry to be available to all people in the archdiocese and all would have a parish to call their own.

Serving Catholics’ needs

Archbishop Nienstedt implemented a similar plan for parishes while bishop of the New Ulm diocese from 2001 to 2007. It was the diocese’s third plan since 1986, said  Msgr. Douglas Grams, vicar general of the New Ulm diocese. The plan was already underway when Archbishop Nienstedt was made bishop of the diocese, he said.

As a result, 76 parishes formed four stand-alone parishes and 23 faith communities, or groupings of parishes that share pastoral leaders and may share staff, programming and stewardship.

Under Archbishop Nienstedt’s leadership, 10 parishes were designated oratories, or canonically designated places for prayer or worship but not hosts of regular liturgies, Msgr. Grams said. Two of those oratories closed  by the decision of their own parishioners.

The New Ulm diocese was not alone in strategic planning. Several other U.S. dioceses have completed comprehensive parish planning, Lundholm-Eades said.

“We have the advantage of having learned a lot from other dioceses that have already done it,” he said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There’s already a process that’s been helpful in dioceses, and we don’t need to repeat the mistakes.”

The archdiocese is modeling its own plan after the Diocese of Lansing, Mich., which “is just one example of where they did it well,” Lundholm-Eades said.

He said the Lansing diocese listened well to voices within its diocese, came to a shared understanding of the current reality, developed options within regions and put their findings together in a comprehensive, cohesive plan.

“Really good archdiocesan planning processes are not staff-driven; they’re driven by those out in parishes under the direction of their archbishop, and that’s how this one is going to work,”?Lundholm-Eades said.

Archbishop Nienstedt’s planning principles

• Full sacramental ministry must be available to every Catholic in each geographical area of the archdiocese. In other words, every Catholic will have a home parish and will know where to go for spiritual assistance.

• Qualified pastoral leaders (i.e., clergy, religious and lay) will be assigned to each of those geographical areas.

• Special concern must be given to the poor, the marginalized or the immigrant.

• Every parish will be involved, to one degree or another, in the planning process. We will not permit discussions to fall along the lines of “the haves” and “the have nots.”

• Every parish will be expected to evaluate its spiritual, sacramental, communal, financial and faith formation resources. Adjustments will be made with other parishes in that particular deanery based on the evaluation.

• Catholic schools cannot be left out of the plan. The situation with our schools is complex and diverse. But we want to continue our support for them to the best of our ability.

• The discussions surrounding this planning should be characterized by mutual respect, patience, honesty and an ability to listen to all points of view. The main thrust of the planning is about collaboration and cooperation, not about closing, though the latter may happen in some cases.

Category: Archdiocese Planning Process

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