Collaboration, cooperation essential to parish life


By Barb Arland-Fye

This fall clergy, lay leaders and people in the pews will explore opportunities for collaboration and cooperation in planning for the future of the Catholic Church in the Davenport Diocese.

Gearing up for those meetings, diocesan clergy and lay leaders attended a presentation June 7-8 at the Annual Clergy Institute in Iowa City to learn from an expert on parish planning.

Presenter Mark Mogilka, director of stewardship and pastoral services for the Diocese of Green Bay,  Wis., focused on planning processes that respond to parish trends and challenges.

A shrinking population of priests for parish ministry, declining attendance at Mass, fewer parishes, development of “mega” parishes, a growing Catholic Latino population, the advent of parish life administrators, and a growing diaconate are factors shaping parish life now and in the future, he said. Citing statistics from the CARA website, he said that 19,244 parishes served 53 million Catholics in the U.S. in 1985, compared with 18,280 parishes serving 65.2 million Catholics in 2009. And between the years 2004 and 2020 the number of priests for parish ministry is estimated to drop 21 percent, according to the late researcher Dean Hoge.


A key question to ask, Mogilka said: “How best do we organize parish life to maximize the gifts and talents of pastors?” Delegation, collaboration and cooperation are essential components of a vibrant Church, noted Mogilka, who chaired the national study committee on multiple-parish pastoring for the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project. He and Kate Wiskus, associate dean of formation at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary, co-authored a book “Pastoring Multiple Parishes” which formed the framework for the diocesan presentation.

Mogilka said the planning process requires assessing the current reality, articulating the mission/vision and developing an action plan. He advised the institute’s participants to remember whose mission they’re seeking to fulfill: God’s. He also noted that no “one-size-fits-all” parish model exists. Structures or models may evolve over time. Parishes ought to prepare in advance for opportunities to collaborate, cooperate, cluster or merge. “If you know a marriage is coming down the road, start dating now.”

He acknowledged that questions have been raised about opening up the priesthood to married men and to women as a way to solve the shortage of priests and parishes. But, “it’s very clear where our Church is on that question,” therefore planning needs to occur within the existing structure.

During a break following a description of pastoral leadership, Mogilka said one participant approached him and said, “You’re describing Jesus with an MBA!” The point in sharing that story is that pastors need to learn how to delegate — not abdicate — the responsibilities of being a pastor. “To pastorally lead means things are going to change,” Mogilka noted.

The first rule of change, he observed, is to “engage the spirit of God.” Change requires engaging everyone in the parish. Build a good case statement as to why change is necessary. Be transparent in showing the rationale. Explain how the change will help the mission and identify the options and why they weren’t chosen. People need to know they are being heard and that is accomplished by practicing compassionate listening, he said.

Father Troy Richmond, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison, which formed with the merger of Ss. Mary & Joseph and Sacred Heart parishes, said that involving parishioners in the naming process of the merged parish was very helpful. Creating a new logo also facilitated the process of change, he noted.

Father Rich Adam, pastor of three parishes — Holy Trinity in Richmond, St. Mary in Riverside and St. Joseph in Wellman — said they are practicing what Mogilka discussed. “Collaboration is the key,” said Fr. Adam who’s been pastor of the three parishes for nine years. “I find gifts in all three parishes.  In a sense, I have three families. They’re all unique and special in their own way. But we’re all still one.”

In his book Mogilka identified six models for ministering multiple parishes which the Davenport Diocese will look to in its planning process along with information gleaned from the Cleveland, Ohio, Diocese and the Dubuque Archdiocese as well as the Diocese of Green Bay.

His presentation helped “better familiarize the priests with our diocesan planning process,” said Father James Vrba, soon-to-be pastor of St. Mary Parish in Solon and co-chair of the Diocesan Planning Commission with Ruth Skeens. “It certainly provided opportunities for questions and answers to possible scenarios that parishes might have.”

The most important idea Fr. Vrba took away from the presentation was “to have as many parishioners as possible involved in the planning for the future of their parishes. Parish planning needs a grassroots approach rather than a top-down approach. That’s certainly the process the planning commission is using,” he said.

This fall’s Local Area Parish Planning Process is a continuation of pastoral planning that builds on three documents submitted to the diocese by clergy and laity in 2005. “It’s important to acknowledge the work that went into our previous planning project; our commission is building on that.”

Skeens, a member of Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington, said she thought Mogilka’s presentation gave “a good overview of just how intricate this whole process of collaboration is.” She noted that planning “takes a lot of delegation, it takes a lot of collaboration and cooperation on everybody’s part.” 

The key message she took away is the need for pre-planning. “It gives people the opportunity in advance to consider possibilities, options,” she said.

Her parish is the result of a merger about a dozen years ago of two churches — St. John and St. Paul. Today, Ss. John & Paul Parish collaborates with Ss. Mary & Patrick Parish in West Burlington. The two parishes have a joint regional council (St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville has a representative on it) but separate finance councils. The Burlington and West Burlington parishes share a bulletin and collaborate on religious education, adult formation and youth ministry.

Father Tony Herold, writing about the presentation in the Prince of Peace Parish bulletin in Clinton, said: “Although we are aware fewer priests will be serving us in the future, we must work to ensure that our parishes are vibrant places where the Word of God is proclaimed, the sacraments celebrated and all of us grow in our vocations.”

The Catholic Messenger will continue to explore collaboration among parishes in upcoming issues.

 Local Area Parish Planning Process timeline

Phase 1

Part A: Seven meetings to be held across the Diocese of Davenport — Sept. 19, St. Mary’s Parish, Solon, 4:30 p.m.; Holy Trinity Parish, Richmond, 7 p.m.; Sept. 20, St. Mary Parish, Albia, 7 p.m.; Sept. 21, St. Alphonsus Parish, Mount Pleasant, 7 p.m.; Sept. 26, St. Mary Parish, Pella, 7 p.m.; Oct. 3, St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Davenport, 3 p.m.; St. Joseph Parish, DeWitt, 7 p.m.

Purpose: Meet with parish leaders to explain and begin planning process, share projected priest availability.

Part B: Oct.-Nov. — 80 parishes meet separately for two meetings to raise parishioner awareness,  formulate and send report to Bishop Martin Amos, identify most likely collaboration among parishes,  establish two representatives for Local Area Planning Committee.

Phase II

Dec. 1-31 — Diocesan Planning Commission compiles 80 responses to parish collaboration recommendation. Sends report to bishop.

Phase III

 Jan. – May 31, 2011

Part A — Pastor/PLA and two representatives of each parish attend meeting facilitated by Diocesan Planning Commission members to review compiled responses for collaboration, and to allow parishes present to meet with other parishes they wish to collaborate with. Local Area Planning Groups will be established by the individual choice of each parish local planning committee. Specific details on number of priests per deanery or area will be shared.

Part B: Local Area Planning Groups meet to develop preliminary plans to recommend to the bishop. Plan developed is acceptable to the Local Planning Group. Plan must meet specific number of priests.

Phase IV

June 1-Aug.31, 2011

Eighty parishes hold separate parish meetings (town hall style) to review preliminary plan developed by their Local Planning Group. Parish leadership consulted. Parishes decide to: accept, reject and start over, or modify and accept. Brief status report due July 15.

Phase V

Sept. 1-15, 2011

Local Area Planning Group forwards recommended plans to Diocesan Planning Commission for review.

Phase VI

Sept. 15-Oct. 1, 2011

Diocesan Planning Commission forwards Local Area Planning Group recommended plan to Presbyteral and Diocesan Pastoral Councils for review.

Oct.1-Dec. 1, 2011

Diocesan Planning Commission works to resolve differences and assist those areas that rejected and started over or are working on modifications.

Phase VII

Advent 2011

Bishop acknowledges plan. Commission reviews plan continuously, assists in implementation, completes ongoing evaluation as necessary.

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