Examining the purpose of cluster and parish pastoral planning Print
Trusting in the Spirit
Thursday, Sep. 10, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

Trusting in the Spirit by Grant Emmel

"It is in the local churches that the specific features of a detailed pastoral plan can be identified -- goals and methods, formation and enrichment of the people involved, the search for the necessary resources -- which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mold communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture." -- Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29, Apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II (January 2001)

The Diocese of Madison is continuing on with the Trusting in the Spirit planning and implementation process, now in its second year, with 16 of the 40 clusters having turned in their plans for the upcoming year.

I'd like to revisit, over a few articles, the purpose of pastoral planning in the context of our cluster relationships and give a little refresher on how the planning process is supposed to work in our diocese.

At the parish level, planning should be a prayerful process that allows for input by the people through which a parish describes itself as a particular community of faith in light of the bishop's goals for the diocese.  A parish does this by understanding its values and vision; assessing its strengths/resources, limitations, and needs; making recommendations to the pastor concerning establishment of priorities or goals; and, eventually, devising ways to accomplish its mission.

Thus parish pastoral planning helps to answer the questions: Who are we as a parish? What are we called to do?  How are we best going to do it?

The purpose of cluster planning is to prayerfully assess the local Church in a cluster of two to four parishes. The product of this planning is a document from the cluster, given to the Implementation Commission for presentation to the bishop, of a yearly pastoral plan for that cluster.

The plan, developed within the spirit of and according to the themes of Trusting in the Spirit, should state the organization and coordination of all ministerial activities within the cluster that help lead the people to Christ.

This planning is best done when representatives from the cluster of parishes reflect prayerfully and talk about their greater community over a number of meetings. Most often, the priests of the cluster lead the group in a process to evaluate whether the parishes, programs, buildings, and organizational structures are of the necessary number, type, and variety in light of each parish's own pastoral plans.

In the spirit of ongoing conversion, some change should always be anticipated when planning. In some instances, given the realities of a particular cluster, parishes may need to be founded, or altered, or even merged. The same could be said of schools, programs, and other parish organizations in the cluster as the situation warrants.

This planning can be a vital part of an ongoing renewal, since it enables this group of parishes to find the ways and means to be better Church communities in our diocese in the most effective manner possible.

Also, this allows parishes to learn from the plans of neighboring parishes, to blend with and support one another's plans, and, when advisable, to work with other parishes in some common activities.

Next: Setting Goals

Grant Emmel is the vice chancellor and director of the diocesan Office of Planning.