Future of parishes: We're all in this together
This week Bishop Robert C. Morlino is releasing directives for parish planning as a culmination of the Guided by the Spirit process (see Pages 1A to 4A of the print edition or see the Guided by the Spirit Directives PDF file on the Diocese of Madison Web site).
When he wrote to pastors on August 15, 2006, Bishop Morlino said, "It is a process which will engage you and your parish leaders in conversations, suggestions, and responses."
The bishop added, "I know that there is and will continue to be a great deal of emotion as parishes reflect on their histories and come to grips with some of the realities we all must face concerning their futures. I want the Guided by the Spirit project to be as collaborative and sensitive to local concerns as possible."
Fulfilled expectations. This project has certainly fulfilled the bishop's expectations. For the past year, there have been many, many meetings: of parish core committees, cluster groups, and the Diocesan Planning Commission. Priests and people have studied their own parishes and examined their neighboring parishes to look at strengths and weaknesses and determine how they can work together to build more vibrant parishes in the future.
One of the challenges, of course, is the declining number of priests. However, in the past four years the Diocese of Madison has seen a marked increase in the number of seminarians. Hopefully this will lead to greater numbers of priests in the future.
But the number of priests is not the only reason to make some changes in parish structures. Population shifts - primarily in rural areas of the diocese - also necessitate the linking and merging of smaller parishes with their neighbors. Although it can be painful at first, it is hoped that parishes will emerge stronger and more vibrant as they work together.
All parishes affected. Every parish will be affected in some way. Even larger parishes will be partnering with neighboring parishes to see how they can collaborate in such areas as youth ministry, adult education, evangelization, and social outreach.
As members of our diocesan family, we are all in this together. We must continue to pray for the success of the implementation process. In addition, the bishop has encouraged all Catholics to pray and work for an increase in church vocations and to support Catholic schools in the diocese.
Thanks for hard work. Please say thanks to Fr. Jay Poster, chair, and all members of the Diocesan Planning Commission and to Vice-chancellor Grant Emmel for their hard work. Thanks, too, to members of parish core committees and cluster committees for their involvement in the past year, along with the Reid Group consultants for their guidance.
Anyone reading the directives will realize that we are just beginning the process. It will take years for some of the plans to come to fruition. As we move forward in the implementation process, let us trust that the Spirit will lead us in the right direction.
Mary C. Uhler
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