By now, most regular readers must know about the new staffing and pastoral leadership model proposed for the Boston Archdiocese. News of the proposed pastoral collaboratives, as part of the Pastoral Service Team (PST) initiative, is spreading like wildfire, now that the proposed parish groupings have been published.
All of the information is posted at this website: www.planning2012.com/2012-consultation
Local newspapers and media outlets are picking up the local angles. For example:
The Sentinel and Enterprise reported the following in “Archdiocese unveils plan for sharing of parish resources“:
In a proposal by the Archdiocese of Boston, 25 parishes in Greater Lowell, including those in Townsend and Shirley, will become 10 pastoral collaboratives that could eventually share resources, including pastors, priests, staff and ministries.
According to the archdiocese, a greater coordination of trained personnel and the consolidation of similar works and ministries in parishes within a pastoral collaborative will ease the burden currently experienced by pastors and staff.
Unlike the reconfiguration process that began in 2004 and closed or merged dozens of parishes, including six in Lowell, the new proposal does not mandate the closing of any parishes — just the sharing of resources.
Each parish will retain its individual identities and assets.
“No parishes are supposed to be closed. The archdiocese is just trying to ensure that all parishes will have the services they need to continue to grow in new and vibrant ways,” said the Rev. Brian Mahoney, pastor of St. Francis in Dracut.
The largest proposed collaborative is composed of four parishes: St. Mary in Ayer, St. Anthony in Shirley, St. John the Evangelist in Townsend, and Our Lady of Grace in Groton-Pepperell.
St. William in Tewksbury, which ranks among the largest parishes in the archdiocese and is the only Catholic church in Tewksbury, is the only Greater Lowell parish to stand alone.
The plan calls for multiple churches, in some cases, to be served by a single pastor who leads a pastoral team, says Archdiocese Spokesman Terry Donilon.
One such group would form among St. Thomas Aquinas in Nahant, St. Johns in Swampscott and Our Lady Star of the Sea in Marblehead. There would be 27 collaboratives among parishes in the North Region of the Boston Archdiocese.
Just to recap, the idea is to create a structure called a Pastoral Service Team (PST) to provide pastoral services to multiple parishes. The archdiocese describes the model as follows:
“The Pastoral Service Team would be comprised of a group of priests, deacons, pastoral associates and lay ecclesial ministers, who provide pastoral services to multiple parishes. Because of shared ministerial leadership and shared finance & pastoral councils, the parishes would collaborate with each other on some ministries such as evangelization, faith formation and outreach. This proposed new structure does not call for the closing of any parishes. Rather, it focuses on the means by which pastoral services are provided in and to our parishes, and through collaborating on ministries, allows the Catholic community within an area of the Archdiocese to benefit from a broader set of local Catholic ministries. Each pastoral collaborative, served by a PST, would be charged with the development of a local pastoral plan to best serve the Catholics in that particular area of the Archdiocese.
Initially there appeared to be a fairly warm reception by many priests to the proposal, as evidenced by the voting at the December convocation in Randolph, where 2/3 of priests said the direction in which the proposed PST model would take the archdiocese was either the “right direction” or “close to right.”
That was then and this is now. Things have turned substantially chillier in recent weeks as pastors, parish councils and parish staffs start to more fully grasp the implications. Pastors will be asked to resign their positions, and new pastors will be appointed who have no loyalty to their new parish and no knowledge of the parish history or people for whom that parish is their long-term spiritual home. One person commented privately to BCI that the current direction of the initiative seems to be creating 100+ “circular firing squads.” Some degree of power and control will be given up by individual parishes as they are asked to collaborate and share resources. Some parish employees will no doubt lose their jobs, and may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. BCI is hearing of emergency parish council meetings and letters being written to Cardinal O’Malley.
As parishes all wrestle with the implications of the proposed plan, at the same time it is clear that the current model of parish staffing is not sustainable. We know that priests are stretched to thin, the number of Catholics attending Mass continues to decline and 40% of parishes are unable to pay their bills.
BCI is going to remain neutral on the plan and not voice an opinion for now, except to say the following. Clearly, something must change in the current model of parish staffing. It seems to BCI that either we close a hundred-some parishes or we adopt a different model of staffing and keep existing parishes open. Either option has its challenges. The manner in which whatever new plan is chosen and implemented is key to success.
Right now, we are hearing a lot of consternation. Pastors, priests, parish councils, parish employees and parishioners should all voice their input and feedback to the archdiocesan leadership on the proposed plans through the established channels in order to ensure your input is heard. BCI still has good reason to believe that the Cardinal and those in charge of pastoral planning will listen to every piece of input they get on this important issue.
As always, you can feel free to share and vent on BCI (but please do not use BCI as an alternative to sharing your input directly with the archdiocese on this particular issue).