Bishop W. Shawn McKnight wants parishes to think big and forge new bonds throughout an ambitious new process of discerning and planning for their future.
“This is a time for bold ideas and bold creativity,” he told deans, deanery council members and parish leaders in a video message seen simultaneously in five locations throughout the diocese on Oct. 18.
At that time, he officially launched the Shaping Our Future Together regional process, focusing on stronger collaboration among parishes within the geographic regions of the diocese, known as deaneries.
“Our ultimate objective is to have thriving Catholic parishes throughout the diocese,” he said.
Thriving parishes are an essential part of carrying out the Church’s mission, which is to lead people to Christ and help them prepare to spend eternity in heaven with Him.
Toward that end, Bishop McKnight is entrusting the deans, who are pastors appointed by the bishop to help him with Church governance in each deanery, with laying the groundwork for the whole process.
Over the next month, each dean will work with the parishes in his deanery to develop a six-month planning process tailored to the specific needs of that deanery.
The process will build on the positive work already being done in the individual parishes and the collaborative planning that is already under way in the diocese.
When work began on the current diocesan pastoral plan, A Steward’s Journey: Our Call to Greater Communion, in 2019, Bishop McKnight noted that parishes are where most Catholics experience their faith and the essential need for parishes to continually adjust so that people can discover and deepen their relationship with God.
“[Plans don’t] provide us with a mission,” Bishop McKnight said when he released A Steward’s Journey: Our Call to Greater Communion on Feb. 6, 2021. “That was already given to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ, 2,000 years ago: to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
“But we do need a plan,” he said then, “a strategy for how all of us, together, will live out the communion of the Church in response to everything that’s going on around us.”
The new process, Shaping Our Future Together, allows Catholics to continue “to celebrate the good of parish life and work on key measures to help us grow and thrive together,” Bishop McKnight stated in launching the process.
He said working together in this way will lead to growth, “not merely in numbers but in the quality of parish life.”
“This new direction broadens our focus to the level of the five deaneries, which serve to foster the individual parishes, and help administer our diocesan vision across the broad geography here in central and northern Missouri,” he said.
Seven essential values
Bishop McKnight pointed to seven values that are essential to the Church’s vision that must be used in pastoral planning:
— promoting the engagement of all parishioners in the mission of the parish through a stewardship way of life;
— fostering a culture of co-responsibility in which there is a mutual respect for the differing roles of the laity and clergy in the life and mission of the Church; and
— strengthening the parish’s capacity as a center of charity and sanctuary of mercy.
“These seven values shape the look of thriving Catholic life in our diocese,” Bishop McKnight stated.
The upcoming year
The bishop emphasized to parish leaders that they and their fellow parishioners have an important role in shaping their shared future together.
Each deanery will submit to Bishop McKnight by the end of November a proposal for the process they wish to use for Shaping Our Future Together in 2023.
Toward that end, each dean will appoint a working group to hash out a draft proposal for review and reaction by the rest of the parish leadership of the deanery.
Bishop McKnight will review the proposals with the Diocesan Pastoral Council and provide any necessary feedback.
Each deanery will implement its approved discernment process from January to June 2023 — “with the identifying of concrete ways to collaborate more effectively to ensure thriving Catholic parishes throughout the diocese,” said Bishop McKnight.
The bishop then will review the proposals from the five deaneries, with the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council.
Approved deanery discernment plans will be announced from the Chancery next fall, with implementation beginning in 2024.
Bishop McKnight called this “a historic reimagining of our diocese, especially with regard to how our individual communities relate to one another.”
He urged the people in each deanery to be creative in the discernment process that they will propose, mindful of approaches that would work best in their parishes and throughout their deanery.
“You know your neighbors and fellow parishioners, the local challenges and opportunities, better than anyone else,” he noted.
He emphasized that this is a process of discernment — trying to understand and do what God wants — rather than advocating for personal preferences.
“We are to be open to the will of the Holy Spirit for us and our parishes,” he stated. “And we must be attentive to the Spirit’s promptings.”
He reiterated that this is a prime opportunity for Catholics to set their faith on a strong foundation for the future.
“And our success relies on each of you engaging with this opportunity, starting right now,” he said.
He emphasized that those who deliberately choose not to engage in Shaping Our Future Together are also making a decision.
“Let me be as transparent as possible,” Bishop McKnight stated. “If your parish embraces this opportunity to ensure a thriving church and commits itself to working collaboratively with others, I will consider myself obligated to utilize our diocesan resources, as reasonably as I can, to help you succeed.
“If your parish chooses not to engage in this process of Shaping Our Future Together, however, then I will consider that to be a decision by default, leaving it to me and my advisors to make the hard decisions for you, which is a common practice in other dioceses when it comes to decisions about the realignment of parishes with shifting demographics and fewer priests.”
Bearing good fruit
Bishop McKnight thanked the deans and parish leaders for the leadership they provide and the work they’re already doing.
“As pastors, deacons, pastoral council chairs and others, you have been walking with your fellow parishioners to build vibrant Catholic communities,” he said.
“With your engagement and guidance, we are beginning to see the fruits of our ongoing diocesan pastoral plan,” he stated.
He led them in praying a new prayer for the discernment process. The prayer will be distributed and prayed regularly in parishes throughout the diocese.
Bishop McKnight’s video message in English can be found at:
The message with Spanish translation can be found at: