‘Local church’ extends beyond your parish
Developing a viable plan for the diocese requires looking beyond parish boundaries and finding more opportunities for collaboration
The Planning Advisory Council of the St. Cloud Diocese is in the midst of designing a new plan or planning process for the diocese. Its goal is to present a proposal to Bishop John Kinney by spring 2012. The council is looking at many dynamics in the diocese, including parish vibrancy, growing opportunities for lay leadership, number of priests, number of Catholics and Mass attendance. This article is part of an occasional series that examines issues relevant to diocesan planning.
By Sue Schulzetenberg
Falling backwards from a four-foot-tall stump, Claire Kurvers could only hope acquaintances and strangers would catch her before she crashed onto the hard-packed dirt ground.
Her St. Cloud peers from St. Mary's Cathedral, St. Augustine Parish and Christ Church Newman Center had extended their arms to form a “safety net” to protect her.
Surviving the “trust fall” exercise, which was part of an Oct. 21 confirmation retreat at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Kurvers thought more people should have taken the risk. Only a few people in her group did.
“It gives you a thrill when you’re up that high and then you fall. You’re supposed to trust each other,” said Kurvers, a 10th-grader and member of Christ Church Newman Center.
Trust falls, says Lisa Neu, faith formation director of St. Augustine Parish and St. Mary’s Cathedral, are symbolic of risks of working together.
“When we’re all holding onto each others’ arms, we’re able to catch someone. The stump [Kurvers] is standing on is quite tall. It seems scary, it seems impossible, but when we work together it becomes possible, and, in fact, easy,” Neu said.
Working together for the retreat is just one of the three-parish cluster’s collaborative efforts. It has also worked with other parishes in the St. Cloud area through ChristSeed, which consists of parish staff members who meet regularly to plan projects and support each other.
“Together we have more years of experience than alone,” Neu said.
Looking beyond boundaries
For some parishes, clustering, collaborating and integrating with neighboring parishes is very familiar and almost ingrained. For others, especially stand-alone parishes or those functioning like one, reaching beyond parish boundaries and working together can be challenging.
Faced with the declining number of priests, changing demographics and the hope to evangelize and foster strong communities, the diocesan Planning Advisory Council continues to discuss how the St. Cloud Diocese can best be served. Working with these challenges, the planning advisory council is looking beyond parish lines to consider collaborative possibilities and keep in mind the broader picture of church.
“The church is larger than any one single parish or diocese. In the diocese, we’re all working together; we’re in the local church,” said Benedictine Father Jonathan Licari, a member of the council.
The “local church,” or also known as “particular church” in canon law, refers to a diocese, Father Licari said.
Canon law — or church law — defines a diocese as a portion of the people of God entrusted for pastoral care to a bishop with the cooperation of priests. The diocese, according to canon law, is to be divided into distinct parts or parishes.
Father Licari said, “In the planning process, the planning council is working for the bishop to help to support, foster and care for the people of the diocese and in that care, also being very conscious of how many clergy there are to work with, and looking at the possibilities of how parishes are located geographically, how we minister to their needs and how we continue their care, education and life in the community. So actually we’re talking about a big community.
“We have to look at the whole diocese and individual parishes together,” he said.
Because the church is the “people of God,” it is not limited to a specific building, Father Licari said.
“This is the emotional part,” he added. “Families have grown up in a parish for over 100 years, and that has been their base, their reality. The planning council is considerate of these families, but also recognizes the challenge to ask members of our faith community to think even larger than one parish. We have a common faith and a common thread that unites us.”
With the whole diocese in mind, there are more resources and opportunities to collaborate and share talents, especially within regions and clusters.
Father Licari said the planning council is considering how neighboring parishes can cooperate and integrate talents and ministries between themselves.
“If people are participating well, [they’re] sharing more gifts,” said Franciscan Sister Clara Stang, a member of the Planning Advisory Council. “But to help people to understand that and be able do that, that’s the hard thing. It’s easier to do when people are geographically closer. It’s harder to do in a very rural area where there’s only one church in the county.”
More positions might need to be shared among parishes. For example, more parishes might need to cluster because there are not enough priests, Sister Clara said. She also thinks lay leaders can play an important role in parishes, clusters and the diocese as a whole.
“The future church will need to rely more and more on well-educated, justly paid and recognized lay leaders,” she said.
Even though there are advantages to making decisions with the whole diocese in mind, some specific needs are best addressed within smaller communities focusing on their specific areas, said Father Mike Kellogg, chairman of the Planning Advisory Council and pastor of parishes in Bowlus, Elmdale, St. Francis and Upsala.
For example, he said, a parish like St. Mary’s in Melrose, with its large Hispanic population, will have different ministry needs than a parish without such a population. Even so, there can be opportunities for parishes to contribute and minister beyond their individual boundaries.
“Once a community can start embracing its mission, then identity starts to grow and, using my own parishes as an example, they start sharing quite a few things,” Father Kellogg said.
For example, all the seventh-graders in the Bowlus, Elmdale, St. Francis and Upsala cluster participate in faith formation classes together. Eighth-graders from all the parishes meet together as well as the confirmation students.
“Kids that might not know each other because they belong to different parishes or they go to different schools are now starting to realize as a cluster we have a commonality,” Father Kellogg said.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Neu
Claire Kurvers prepares for a “trust fall,” an activity symbolic of working together with others.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Neu