By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published August 21, 2014
ATLANTA—As the summer winds down, the pastoral planning process in the Archdiocese of Atlanta continues apace with recommendations for the plan coming in from parishes large and small, metro and rural. The people in the local churches and missions have now had an opportunity to participate in this vital mission of building a five-year pastoral plan for the archdiocese.
Parishes and missions from around the archdiocese were invited to send in recommendations as part of the ongoing pastoral planning process. The deadline was Aug. 1, and 82 parishes—about 80 percent—took on the challenge from Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
The planning process, which began in the spring with some 14,700 people answering the pastoral planning survey, continued on schedule with parish discussions of the four main pastoral plan themes.
Each parish was asked to brainstorm, discuss and formulate 12 recommendations, three for each of the themes defined after the survey. The themes selected from the survey responses are: knowing our faith; living our faith; spreading/keeping our faith; and the evolution of parishes.
The goal of these discussions: to discern direction and solutions to the four most important areas of focus for the next five years.
How the recommendations were gathered
The methods for collecting parish recommendations, with some variation, reflected the size and makeup of the parishes.
St. Peter Chanel Church was the first to send in responses. Pastor Msgr. Peter Rau said that they sent out an online questionnaire to about 1,200 people, as well as the pastor’s advisory board. Those who received the email were parishioners who currently participate in various faith formation programs at the large Roswell parish. In an email interview, he wrote, “We received over 500 responses to the questions. I was impressed with the number, given the limited time (June 3-30).”
Father Charles Byrd’s small parish in Jasper, Our Lady of the Mountains, also sent in recommendations to add to the process. He wrote, “We turned to the lay leadership already in place, to the staff, and to volunteers. We also looked for help from our great deacon (Deacon Lloyd Sutter). Individuals from the pastoral council were instrumental in collecting feedback and putting together our collective response.”
Father Byrd noted that they “chose not to handle this like a town hall, but to learn from those in leadership at the parish. While everyone was invited to respond to the initial survey (and we had a decent number of responses), our further recommendations came from those who contribute regularly with their hours of volunteering, or (from those) who are in positions of lay leadership.”
At the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, Kathy McCormick headed up a group of leaders who used meetings to gather recommendations from the thriving Buckhead parish. McCormick, the director of faith formation and evangelization, Bernadette Flowers, associate director of parish life, and Raul Trujillo, a longtime parishioner active in the Spanish-speaking community, led parish sessions, under the guidance of the pastor, Msgr. Frank McNamee.
McCormick wrote, “For the English sessions we gathered a variety of parishioners that represented a cross-section of the community. We utilized the survey results from CTK parishioners, as well as the study guides furnished by the archdiocese. We met once a week for four weeks.”
Each week, she said, the group focused on one of the issues from the planning process and created recommendations from those discussions. She added that Trujillo conducted two meetings with Spanish-speaking parishioners from both the church and the mission, and compiled recommendations from that community.
McCormick wrote, “We were thrilled with the response to the survey … and believe that we received very good feedback that was specific to our parish.”
Msgr. Rau noted that most recommendations from St. Peter Chanel were “recommendations for the parish, rather than the archdiocese.” He found the responses to be helpful, especially related to the education and programs offered at the church. He said, “Many responses related to apologetics: ‘Who are we? And what relevance does the Catholic faith have to life? Why do we do what we do?’”
He said that many respondents were concerned with the younger (age 18-30) generation’s understanding of those questions.
Msgr. Rau wrote, “There is a sense that people want to know more about the Scriptures, as well as become more aware of the significance of communal prayer of the church—the liturgy. This was a concern since we are living in an era of nondenominational, individualistic, thematic churches that are attracting those with little sense of Catholicism or Catholic identity.”
He added, “I was surprised to hear of the requests for topics on family issues, i.e., parenting. Counseling was an area of importance, especially as it related to issues of substance abuse and stress issues.”
Father Byrd reported that “the big topics for our parish have been and continue to be: 1) how do we respond to the call for the New Evangelization, and 2) how can we better integrate our parish, and in particular how can we better integrate our English- and Spanish-speaking communities into one parish.” He said that these concerns were already on the “top of our to-do-list even before the pastoral plan, and … we are already responding in many ways to these areas of interest.”
He added, “Still there was value in placing into one document our progress, our goals and our challenges. It helps us all to be on the same page, and this work will help us move together as a parish.”
McCormick mentioned the size of her parish and the challenges in getting to know others in a community as large as that at the Cathedral of Christ the King. She wrote, “Parishioners were very open to discussing the topics and after the process was over, they commented on how good this was for them to meet and get to know others from a community as large as ours. Not only did we discuss the issues, but through that discussion there were many who began sharing their own faith stories.”
She added, “This helped build an atmosphere of trust, camaraderie and respect for the needs of us as individuals, the parish community and the Catholic Church as a whole.”
After lively discussion at the sessions, McCormick said that themes emerged such as “the needs for more intentional evangelization, being more intentional at having a welcoming atmosphere and more help in equipping parishes to utilize technology as an evangelization tool.”
Msgr. Rau also pointed out that one of the issues—the evolution of parishes—will be a “teaching area for the future.” He wrote, “Because our parishioners are not aware of the priest shortages in the parishes, they did not come up with responses on how we deal with the evolution of parishes. Parish life, like politics, is all local. Parishioners only know about their parish. Sharing resources, priests, liturgies and multicultural issues of parishes is not on the radar screen of parishioners.”
Next up in the planning process
All parish and mission recommendations will be reviewed and discussed at the priests’ convocation, which will take place the week of Sept. 8.
Following the convocation, final recommendation meetings will be held in the 10 deaneries beginning Sept. 27 and continuing through Nov. 8. Each parish will send four delegates, along with the pastor. At the session the recommendations from the parishes and missions in the deanery will be reviewed and three recommendations chosen for Archbishop Gregory’s consideration for the final plan.
In early 2015, Archbishop Gregory will release a pastoral plan with the best recommendations on how parishes in the archdiocese can address these key priorities during the next five years to help Catholics, both active and inactive, with challenges in their faith lives and to plan with intention the active spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ.