By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published March 19, 2015
ATLANTA—Shortly after Easter, people of the archdiocese will see how their priorities for the local church over the next five years shake out.
The pastoral plan of the Atlanta Archdiocese will be made public the weekend of April 19.
The priorities were winnowed out by votes parishioners cast at 10 regional deanery meetings in 2014 and their top selections dovetailed with those of clergy and religious. Priests made their selections at the annual Convocation of Priests and a voting session was held for deacons and sisters.
Handheld voting devices were used to make the process speedy and transparent. The unanimity was very striking.
“Twelve series of meetings came up with the same series of recommendations,” said archdiocesan planner Peter Faletti.
Now Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory is discussing his draft of the plan with groups he consults with regularly so that there is no gap in support for this common vision of how the church in the Atlanta Archdiocese directs its energies and resources between 2015 and 2020.
He is currently meeting with the clergy in each deanery, a series of sessions that began in the northwest corner of the archdiocese.
Northwest pastor ‘very, very enthusiastic’
Father Tom Shuler, the pastor serving the farthest north at the state line of Georgia and Tennessee, said, “I am very, very enthusiastic about the plan and how it came out. It is going to end up helping parishes like mine that are far out.”
Distance and size are two challenges for him as he pastors the 100-family parish of Our Lady of the Mount in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and the 45-family mission of St. Katharine Drexel in Trenton.
Some intra-deanery communication and events take place now, but Father Shuler foresees this could be energized with live links to high caliber programs no one church could put on. He would like to see webinars offered with people meeting at a deanery site where they could be part of a live Catholic community, but not have to drive to metro Atlanta.
Speaker Matt Fradd’s talk, sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship in January, was a great opportunity for St. Katharine Drexel’s confirmation class and others to attend, the pastor said.
“We don’t have the money or the numbers to bring a Matt Fradd to the parish,” he said. “We can get a bus and take a group” to a regional event.
The northwest deanery priests met Feb. 23 with Archbishop Gregory about the pastoral plan draft and Father Shuler said, “I think the plan is right on. I was astonished at how relevant it is to our archdiocesan and parish needs—which are separate in many cases—and how reflective it was of where our church has to go in the future.”
In particular, he said, “I really responded to the idea of parish life with families. I thought that was a really, really good part of it.”
Pastoral council members spoke freely
Another consultative group is the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, made up of 27 lay people from parishes of different sizes, locations and ethnicities in the archdiocese.
Lee Toole, who has been on the council for four years, said the discussion of the draft was thorough and in his experience in 30 years of corporate life was the most inclusive he’d ever seen.
“The climate for the pastoral council is so open, you feel comfortable saying what you want to say,” Toole said. “In the corporate life, you say what you want to say at your own peril. This is not the case here. I don’t think the process could be any better.”
“As we were going around the table, everyone had comments,” he said. “The universal participation gave me the idea, yes, they accepted it and they were involved.”
A St. Brigid parishioner, who retired from the telecommunications industry, Toole said he has participated in strategic planning professionally and at a parish, and believes, “If you don’t have a direction you don’t know where you are going, and you don’t know if you’ve gotten there, if you succeed.”
He likes the fact that there was so much inclusion in developing the plan and that it will include metrics to assess progress along the way, and yet be flexible.
“We will have a starting point and a very good pastoral plan,” Toole said.
Ongoing communication will make plan work
Communication among parishes—and back and forth between parishes and the offices of the archdiocese—will be critical to the success of the pastoral plan.
“It is really the lynchpin for implementation,” Faletti said.
Getting the word out to other parishes about a great program at one parish or a ministry that’s meeting a real need is one type of communication that needs to be fostered when the archdiocese stretches across 69 counties from LaGrange to Chatsworth and Rome to Thomson.
“We know many parishes have successful programs they are running. There are many good things that could help people accomplish the visions and goals of the pastoral plan,” Faletti said.
Another key element, however, is sparking new approaches.
“We want to encourage people to try new things,” Faletti said.
Right now some deaneries are more engaged in this type of communication than others, but “we have a long way to go.”
“We would like a steady stream of conversation going on. Ideally deaneries would meet quarterly. We need to create this model of communication that is ongoing,” he said.
“When you are far away, you are not alone,” is a drumbeat of the initiative, Faletti said.
Chancery departments look at plan’s priorities
Father Shuler said as a pastor he and his staff benefit from the expertise in every department of the Chancery, citing personnel, education, construction, finance and stewardship as among the offices he regularly consults when making parish decisions.
“I personally, and the folks that work here at the parish, use the archdiocese so much. To the person, everyone in the Chancery office is skillful and knowledgeable and always ready to do everything for us. It is fantastic to me,” he said.
“I think that is a tremendous advantage for all of us. I’ve not gotten anything but 100 percent for anything I’ve asked for. I think that really puts a good foundation on what the pastoral plan wants to do,” Father Shuler said.
Department leaders at the administrative offices of the archdiocese are also looking at the draft of the pastoral plan at the request of Archbishop Gregory. They have been asked to consider “what you can do in your own set of circumstances” to dovetail with the priorities of the pastoral plan.
The idea is that the Chancery is going to realign its priorities to match those in the pastoral plan. This will include making whatever organizational changes are needed to improve the support provided to parishes, missions and schools.
Over the next month, Archbishop Gregory will meet with the Council of Priests and conclude the deanery discussions and others with the pastoral council and departments at the Chancery before releasing the pastoral plan.
“A lot more work is going on to make this as effective a statement as possible,” Faletti said.
“He (Archbishop Gregory) is working with the Chancery on the one side, the deaneries on the other side, to ready the statement in mid-April.”