Although this article’s headline is a question that children typically ask over and over on family road trips, it’s not exclusive to vacation travel. It has come up in some form or other in post-merger conversations with clergy, religious and laypeople. In terms of pastoral planning, the answer is no — we’re not there yet. In fact, as we have said time and again from the outset, “If pastoral planning is done right, it never really ends.”
In other words, pastoral planning is more like a journey, not a destination, because, as conditions in the socioeconomic environment change locally and/or globally, we need to respond and adapt in kind to remain spiritually and practically relevant.
Oct. 29 marked four months since the effective date of the first phase of pastoral planning, which focused primarily on reorganization and consolidation. The 59 mergers and 26 closures integral to the plan have introduced changes the likes of which have no precedent in the archdiocese. We are pleased to report that most of the mergers, but admittedly not all of them, are evolving in a positive manner, thanks to the many dedicated pastors, clergy, religious and lay people who have embraced the plan and committed themselves to making the best of what the changes have to offer.
Beginning in September, staff from the Office of Pastoral Planning — Pastoral Associate David Elliott, Parish Life Coordinator Gail Bellucci and I — along with Sister Clare Millea, director of the archdiocesan Office of Faith and Culture, have been meeting with pastors in the newly merged parishes and those in parishes not directly impacted by the plan. The purpose of these meetings is twofold: to understand the positive and negative impacts that the parishes are facing as a result of the pastoral plan; and, in light of those impacts, to determine how we can mitigate or totally eliminate the negative impacts while leveraging the positive ones.
In addition, each of us has been assigned to serve as liaisons, covering all of the parishes in the archdiocese. In this role, we will work proactively to address issues and/or answer questions pastors or staff may have pertaining to pastoral planning and parish life.
I mention parish life because change naturally will impact the culture, the people and the dynamics of a parish, to which our office must be equipped to respond. Gail Bellucci, our newest team member, has been brought on board to help broaden our service potential in this arena — based not only on her innate creative capabilities, but also on her years of experience as a parish minister and director of campus ministry at Notre Dame High School in West Haven.
Are we there yet? Nope, not yet. There’s still plenty of work to do and growth to realize. In his first apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), Pope Francis says: “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: [W]e no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples,’” people who as a result of our personal encounter with Christ are compelled to proclaim by word and example “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:11)
This second phase of pastoral planning, therefore, started with dialogue and consultation among episcopal vicars, deans and priests in each of our seven new deaneries. A monthly series of deanery meetings began in October. These initial meetings were intended to foster fraternity among our priests as well as to establish a common understanding of the state of the entire deanery and to collaboratively articulate a vision for the deanery, ultimately leading to the creation of parish-level strategic plans for the parishes in the deanery. A geographic map showing the three vicariates and seven deaneries is available on our Stewards for Tomorrow website at: www.stewardsfortomorrow.org/deaneries.html.
Are we there yet? Nope, but we sure have come a long way and we will continue in our efforts to assist each parish to become what Pope Francis envisions: “The presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration … a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach.” (Evangelii Gaudium 26-28)
Deacon Ernest Scrivani, a lay Carmelite, is director of the archdiocesan Office of Pastoral Planning and Parish Life.