Trusting in the Spirit -- one year later Print
Trusting in the Spirit
Thursday, May. 14, 2009 -- 12:00 AM
Trusting in the Spirit by Grant Emmel

Well, it's been a little over a year and a half since the bishop started Trusting in the Spirit with the publication of his directives to clusters.

Trusting in the Spirit is a program created to increase collaboration and connectedness among and between parishes and the Diocese of Madison. It's based on the planning done in Guided by the Spirit as one response to the declining number of priests in our diocese.

An important moment when planning, and we should always be planning, is our look back in time to measure how we did in comparison to our original plan. Consequently, it's the annual time for parishes and clusters to evaluate their ministry progress (reports due May 15th!) so everyone can see how we're doing to build up the Church in the Diocese of Madison.

For the Office of Planning this look back lets us see the impact this process has had on our work in the diocese. And, being the Easter season, it's a good time to be reflective in order to renew one's supernatural outlook on the work that God places before us in order to bring about the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.


The Implementation Report or annual evaluation is the third document in the planning process. First there are the Bishop's Directives, which set a direction for the parishes within a cluster.

Second, there is the Implementation Plan, where the parishes of the cluster set out their plan of action for bringing about the Kingdom in light of the bishop's directives and goals.

The third is the Implementation Report, an evaluation of the actual work accomplished. While there is a suggested format for doing the annual evaluation, there are a few main points that are important to cover:

  • Refer back to your plan. The directives, your plan, and the evaluation taken together paint a picture of the work your cluster did.
  • Can you see a measurable difference in your greater community? This is not meant to be busy work; if it isn't making a difference, you need to change what you're doing!
  • Tell what worked in your plan. You likely had good ideas that actually played out the way you wanted; tell people about your success!
  • Tell what didn't work in your plan. You likely had some ideas that didn't work; help make sure others don't make your same mistakes!
  • Don't do planning in an evaluation. Your next annual plan is due June 15th; that's when you take what you learned from your evaluation, set new goals, and turn them into objectives and action plans for the next year.
  • Ask other people for their opinion. Often we are too close to see the forest from the trees so getting other points of view can be a powerful way to improve things.

As you evaluate your parishes' and cluster's progress, think of how to integrate this work into what your pastoral council is already doing since there has to be a consistency of effort. Everybody needs to be pulling on the rope in the same direction.


The Office of Planning, by its very nature of doing the bishop's work, is focused on helping parishes do their job better of saving souls, primarily through administrative avenues. We do this by building trust and making relationships with people at each parish.

We also make sure that parishes' work is consistent with the "big picture" of the diocese through continually communicating with them. This is a big task for only two staff people in the Office of Planning but nevertheless, it is the task placed before us.

How did we do? Well, by my count the Office of Planning has worked directly and significantly with 40 out of the 78 pastors and their staff, representing 75 out of 132 parishes, to improve the operations of their parishes.

Is your parish one of them? Maybe, as there is a wide variety of large and small parishes involved both in merging and in creating workable implementation plans.

Is everything perfect with these relationships? No, not perfect, but they're a lot better than they were one year ago and we're very proud of that.

Are we communicating the "big picture"? We're trying! But we can improve in that as well by delivering on our promises, only promising what we can deliver, and making sure that as soon as things become different than what we thought, we communicate that to parishes as soon as possible.

If we stick to these simple ideas, I'm hoping that the word will get around and the numbers of pastors and parishes that count us as coworkers will increase and there will be more unity of action, at least in how we are doing administrative things, across the diocese.


The problems we are facing are the same ones facing most other dioceses and parishes. While we like to think that we are unique, and we are, there is a certain sameness of purpose that we should realize exists, be it between persons, parishes, or dioceses: namely, we're all in this together.

And why are we together, why are we doing this work? We're supposed to be struggling to be the holy People of God and thus "all the activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, to the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10).

Let us remember that this is the reason, to get ourselves and those around us to heaven. To give us hope, we just need to remember that God doesn't ask us to be successful, just faithful. He either wills or permits everything that happens to us, working for our good, to help us reach that goal: heaven.

This should give us a great sense of peace: that though the outcome depends upon us, doing our best in goodwill, being faithful to what we are legitimately asked to do, at the same time, it doesn't. That's what I call a mystery.

Thank you for spending this time with me and for all that you do for your parish and diocese. May your Easter joy lead you to the Holy Spirit of Pentecost.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact us by e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or mail us at Trusting in the Spirit, 702 S. High Point Rd., Madison, WI 53719.

Grant Emmel is the vice-chancellor of the Diocese of Madison and the director of the Office of Planning.