ROCHESTER — When he began in 1997 as director of the newly created diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning, Bill Pickett’s role was to convey hard facts — such as staffing projections and other statistics — but also to help parishes plot the strongest courses possible.
“I brought them bad news, generally — ‘There are going to be fewer priests,'” Pickett remarked.
Despite some strong negative reactions, Pickett and his office gradually convinced parishes of the need to become less parochial. Through this approach, planning groups began cooperating on an unprecedented regional level.
“Ten years ago, I don’t think you could have found much of a collaboration in ministry between parishes. It was pretty much, ‘This is my parish,'” Pickett said.
Pastoral planning is now firmly entrenched. However, the process will carry on without Pickett, who is retiring effective Jan. 31, three days after his 65th birthday.
His director position will not be filled. Instead, the pastoral-planning office will be folded into diocesan Parish Support Ministries, with Karen Rinefierd and Deborah Housel, the two planning-group liaisons under Pickett, continuing in their current roles.
Pickett is a native of Kansas City, Mo. The diocese hired him as a director one year after he concluded a 10-year term as president of St. John Fisher College. The position grew out of his involvement in 1996 on the diocesan Strategic Planning Task Force, which deemed that a broad system must be implemented to address the declining number of clergy.
Thus began a process through which faith communities — parishes as well as campus, hospital and prison ministries — formed regional groups comprising mostly lay volunteers. The groups have developed a series of five-year plans to pool their staff and volunteer resources, pending approval by Bishop Matthew H. Clark. In order to ensure ongoing implementation, within a few years of Pickett’s arrival, the Office of Pastoral Planning added two planning-group liaisons — Rinefierd, who began in 1999; and Casey Lopata, who began in 2000. Housel replaced Lopata after his retirement in 2004.
The results have seen wider instances of clustering — in which a priest oversees more than one parish — and the formation of single parishes with multiple worship sites, in which staffs and finances are combined into single entities. Other planning groups have increased their multiparish events, such as youth-group and social-ministry initiatives as well as confirmation and penance services.
Some churches have closed during Pickett’s tenure, but he maintained that many more closings would have occurred without pastoral planning. He noted the importance of parish representatives being engaged in the decision-making process rather than the outcome being totally under the control of the bishop and his staff, as has been done in several other dioceses.
“We’ve helped people accomplish some really good things,” Pickett said. “There are lots of lay people who know more about the church’s inner workings.”
In addition to his pastoral-planning duties, Pickett has been part of several diocesan committees, most notably as chair of the Bishop’s Commission on Reorganization of Catholic Schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In retirement Pickett plans to pursue his budding photography business and a wider range of volunteer opportunities. He is vice chair of the parish pastoral council and a lector at St. Mary’s Church in downtown Rochester. Pickett is also looking forward to more family time: He has seven children and 15 grandchildren, and he and his wife, Marilyn, recently had a new home built in the Town of Henrietta.
Yet after a career of teaching, college administration and diocesan duties, Pickett said he will not jam his schedule quite so tightly.
“I think it will be nice, after 40 years, to not have deadlines,” he said.