John and Marjorie Callahan, parishioners of Good Shepherd Catholic Community in Aurora, Cayuga County, have some advice for parishioners whose churches are going through the pastoral-planning process.
“Go with an open mind,” Marjorie Callahan said. “Most people do not. They are more concerned with their individual parish.”
Good Shepherd Catholic Community was formed from six independent parishes in 1999 and now comprises three year-round worship sites — Our Lady of the Lake in King Ferry, St. Patrick in Moravia and St. Michael in Union Springs. A fourth site, St. Patrick in Aurora, is used during the summer.
The Callahans were among 240 people from the dioceses of Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, Brooklyn, Ogdensburg and Cleveland and the Archdiocese of Chicago who gathered Oct. 24 at Pittsford’s Church of the Transfiguration for a workshop on creating multiple-parish ministries, which are single ministries operated at more than one site. An example of such a ministry is a single administrative office providing services for a parish with multiple worship sites.
Parishes across the nation are engaged in pastoral planning and creating consolidated parishes to address priest shortages. Karen Rinefierd, a planning-group liaison with the diocesan pastoral-planning office, said current projections show that the number of priests in the diocese will decrease from 170 to 122 by 2013, due in large part to age and pending retirements.
The Diocese of Rochester began pastoral planning in 1997. Rinefierd said the Rochester Diocese is known for having grassroots groups in each community make recommendations about how to best use their resources.
“We are recognized as leaders in terms of doing it systematically,” Rinefierd said.
The conference featured tips for members of area parishes on ways to create multiple-parish ministries and share best practices. Parishes also were encouraged to network with each other.
“(The conference) gives you a sense of solidarity, that you are not blazing a trail as a pioneer all by yourself,” said Sister Doreen Glynn, pastoral administrator of St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Ontario, Wayne County. “There are communities all over the country that have survived and are making it work. It gives us hope and confidence that the spirit is alive and at work and is leading us.”
Sister of St. Joseph Maureen D’Onofrio of Syracuse’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception said one concern for her parish is developing a multicultural ministry for a group of ethnic Vietnamese parishioners.
“(The keynote speakers) suggested we talk to a multicultural couple and ask how they deal with issues from various cultures,” she said. “That’s pretty innovative.”
Three speakers from the Diocese of Rochester told the group about their experiences working through the pastoral-planning process. Panel members were Father Bill Coffas, parochial vicar of Blessed Trinity and St. Patrick in Owego, Tioga County; Father Robert J. Schrader, pastor of the Winton-Culver Catholic Community in Monroe County; and Sister of St. Joseph Joan Sobala, pastoral administrator of the St. Felix/St. Francis Parish Cluster in Clifton Springs and Phelps, Ontario County.
Whereas priests of the past needed to be skilled at planning and financing the construction of churches and schools, today’s priests need a different set of skills, Father Schrader said.
“We are now living in an era of extreme makeover artists, and that’s a completely different set of talents you need,” he said. “I wasn’t trained in that. I have always said, ‘Holy orders don’t confer administrative skills.’”
Father Coffas suggested using pictorial church directories to learn names of parishioners in consolidated parishes, and Sister Sobala said parishes should not neglect seasonal changes, which create a welcoming environment for parishioners. Though each acknowledged collaboration can be difficult for a variety of reasons, Sister Sobala said she has seen progress in her parish.
“We seem to be growing in some measure of consciousness of what it means to be in a faith community, and in a faith community that has multiple parts,” she said.
The Callahans said in their parish, distance between worship sites has been one obstacle to creating a unified community, but new ministries have sprung up, such as a prayer chain. They say they chose to be active because there is still good work to be done.
John Callahan compared the unified parish’s potential to that of a seed. “What we’ve planted, we want that to try to blossom into something,” he said.