Parish life can be a taste of heaven, both for people seeking refuge and for those who have already found it.
Bringing that vision to life is hard work, but God multiplies the yield when priests and parishioners prayerfully cooperate and support His way.
That is the key to understanding the process by which parishes throughout the Jefferson City diocese are evaluating and renewing their three-year pastoral plans.
“How we do this can be a significant means of teaching about co-responsibility, how we are called to make decisions in the Church,” said Bishop W. Shawn McKnight.
“It means taking into account the clear authority of the pastor, the clergy, along with the responsibility of the laypeople, with all of their skills and expertise, to exercise a clear role in the making of important decisions,” he said.
Most parishes have created pastoral plans within the past year, focusing on the diocesan pastoral priorities of:
Parishioners took part in a process of identifying needs and the doable and sustainable steps they could accomplish in three years in order to advance the three pastoral priorities.
A thorough examination of all the parish plans led to the creation of the diocesan pastoral plan, “A Steward’s Journey: Our Call to Greater Communion,” which Bishop McKnight presented in February 2021.
The diocesan pastoral plan is included in this issue of The Catholic Missourian and can be found on the diocesan website (diojeffcity.org) by clicking on the menu tab labeled “Diocesan Plan.”
The parishes are now using a review instrument provided by the diocese to gauge their progress and necessary adjustments as the second year begins.
It’s part of a never-ending cycle.
“Parish pastoral planning should always be before us,” LeAnn Korsmeyer, diocesan director of parish and charitable services, stated.
“We should always be observing and evaluating and moving forward,” she said. “People change, times change, needs change. If we are doing it in a spirit of cooperation with the Holy Spirit and of truly building up God’s Church, we should never see this as having an end date.”
The Parish Plan Review Instrument provided by the diocese guides parishioners through the diocesan priorities.
Parishioners are being asked to take an objective look at things such as how welcoming their parish facilities are; the quality of their parish’s Sunday worship; unnecessary obstacles for people seeking ministries or access to the sacraments; and the effectiveness of their parish communications in providing transparency and accountability for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Discussion topics also include the effectiveness of each parish’s disaster response team, and the quality of the parish’s working relationship with Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO).
“These are all open-ended questions,” noted Helen Osman, diocesan director of communications. “This is not intended to be a pass-fail kind of review.”
Rather, they are a way to help each parish refocus on carrying-out its Gospel mission more effectively.
“What we want is for the Church to thrive!” Bishop McKnight stated.
All review materials are available in English and Spanish.
Bishop McKnight instructed pastors to meet with the chairperson of each parish pastoral council to determine the people who should answer the questions in each section of the review instrument.
Some parishes might choose to hold a town hall meeting to gather further information.
“There are multiple ways of getting this done, depending on a parish’s situation, their context, their size, and what their needs are,” said Bishop McKnight.
The goal is to bring as many new voices into the discussion as possible on a tight deadline.
“That’s the creative side of the Church, the excitement of bringing in new minds, younger people, their ideas,” said Mrs. Korsmeyer.
Pastors have been instructed to discuss the answers to the questions with their parish councils and then submit their final a reports to the diocese by Nov. 15.
Pastors will then present the findings to parishioners the weekend of Dec. 1.
The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) and the deans and lay representatives of each of the five deaneries (regions) of the diocese will meet on Dec. 4 to discuss the reports from the parishes and suggest possible changes to the diocesan pastoral plan going into its second year.
This information will help Bishop McKnight allocate diocesan resources toward helping parishes carry-out their pastoral plans.
“We really want to hear from the parishes how the Chancery can provide more effective assistance,” Mrs. Osman noted.
Mrs. Korsmeyer noted that while the sacramental life of the parish must always be its central emphasis, a cornucopia of activities needs to flow from that.
“How are we bringing Christ to one another between Sundays, so when we come to Mass, we offer up what we did that week for God and His people?” she asked.
She emphasized that parishes should always be searching for ways to improve.
“We need to make a habit of looking at all of our ministries and seeing whether they’re still producing good fruit, or if we need to try doing things a different way,” she said.
Never too late
It’s not too late for parishes to get started with the pastoral planning process if they haven’t already done so.
Mrs. Korsmeyer noted that 79 of the 104 parishes and missions in the diocese have submitted pastoral plans, and that an additional 14 parishes within the past month have begun the process of discerning their pastoral plan.
Some have expressed interest in discerning their pastoral plan over Advent this year, using the four-part small-group discussion guide the diocese provided for parishes last December.
“We’re happy to make that available to any parish that needs it,” said Mrs. Korsmeyer.
She emphasized the importance of bringing new people into the core of parish doers and decision-makers.
“We need for people to be more active, speak up, use your voice, use your time, use your talent, and help us make things better,” she said.