Guiding Parishes

Dec. 2-8, 2004
Guiding Parishes
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Diocesan Pastoral Council Focuses on New Guidelines, Stewardship & Ministerial Formation

The meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) took place at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School Nov. 13. The council, consisting of Bishop James Moynihan, Bishop Thomas Costello and parish leaders, voted to endorse Bishop Moynihan’s three diocesan priorities –– Personal Holiness, Evangelization and Stewardship. Upon approval of the goals, the executive committee will meet with the bishops to map out a plan to publicize and to implement the objectives in the coming years.

Father James Lang, vicar for parishes, presented the newly-published parish pastoral council guidelines entitled, “Guiding the Parish –– Moved by the Spirit.” The guidelines are the culmination of more than two years of work by council members. The booklet “is a reflection meant to enhance parish life by effective collaboration between pastors and parishioners,” wrote Bishop Moynihan in the introductory letter. The publication lists suggestions, ideas and possibilities for parish pastoral councils that will help guide councils to a more collaborative model that promotes a long-range parish vision.

“It has been 20 years since we’ve looked at the pastoral and parish council guidelines,” said Father Lang. “Significant changes have been made.” The publication, which was mailed to all pastors in the Syracuse Diocese, gives directives on how to organize a pastoral council; clarifies roles of the pastor, council members and other parish committees; develops relationships and vision within the parish and offers practical suggestions and guidelines. Father Lang said that the parish’s mission statement have an objective in mind. “What do you want to accomplish as a parish?” asked Father Lang. “This mission should be articulated. You need to be collaborative and act as consultants,” he said. “Not a government. It should be an authentic and shared discipleship.” He also said that each meeting should begin with thoughtful, meaningful prayer. “Consider prayer as part of a pastoral council meeting. Ensure that you are in communication with the One who is holy by making sure the setting for the meeting is appropriate.”

To introduce the theme of stewardship, Father Gregory LeStrange, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville, shared with the council the measures his parishioners have taken to enhance stewardship. “You have to find the right people to get involved to put together an effective stewardship,” he said. Immaculate Conception hired an outside consulting firm to assist them with raising awareness of stewardship. “Often we talk about the effectiveness of faithful stewardship as sharing talent, time and treasure,” said Father LeStrange. “Gone are the days when only a few are asked to share stewardship.” The steps for guiding the direction that Immaculate Conception will take include prayer, education, socialization and increasing the parish’s work with the poor and those in need, explained Father LeStrange. He said he has encouraged his congregation to pray not only in the context of the liturgy but also by attending retreats at Christ the King Retreat House. The parish is also committed to working with the Samaritan Center, Catholic Charities and the food pantry to reach out to the poor and those in need.

Immaculate Conception has defined its course of action for the coming years. Through ongoing education, continued commitment, heightened awareness and openness to involvement, Father LeStrange hopes to lead his congregation in answering God’s call to stewardship. Some of the vehicles used to raise awareness about stewardship at Immaculate Conception include announcements placed in the bulletin, good news quarterly newspapers, and a monthly newsletter created by the consulting company. The parish leaders also distribute commitment cards once a year asking people to offer their time, talent or treasure for a one to two year period. “We can’t always rely on the same people to do everything,” said Father LeStrange. He said that parishioners are asked to fill many roles, including those of liturgical minister, religious education teacher and member of prayer groups. “The results thus far have been a shift in the attitude of each parishioner’s concept of their role in the parish,” explained Father LeStrange. Because the participation has been so positive, the parish council at Immaculate Conception has voted to hire the consulting firm for a second year. The firm, called Stewardship Consultants, is based in Atlanta, Ga.

Other business discussed at the DPC meeting included an update on the Heritage Campaign and the HOPE Appeal by Christopher Parker, director of the Stewardship and Development Office for the Syracuse Diocese. The Heritage Campaign as of Oct. 8 has received cash payments of $40,324,928. Parker reported that while the pledge fulfillment rate is slower than projected, 84 percent of donors have paid their pledges in full and16 percent of donors have balances due of $8,984,231. Of the amount due, $6,300,000 is due to parishes. To date, $17,438,636 has been disbursed from the Heritage Campaign to the HOPE Appeal, parish sharing, teacher salary adjustments, clergy retirement residences, school capital funds and religious education programs.

Parker also gave an update on the 2004 HOPE Appeal campaign. Since Nov. 1, 2004, $3,919,652 has been pledged and $3,587,684 has been paid. Ninety-three parishes have reached or exceeded their goal with only 23 parishes under 70 percent of their goal. In continuing with the theme of stewardship, Parker not only gave a financial update of the programs but also reminded DPC members that the Stewardship and Development Office could assist them with tips, strategies and techniques to heighten awareness for pledges. In presenting “Giving 101” strategies, Parker reported that the number one reason people give is because they are asked by their pastor, bishop or fellow parishioner. People also give to demonstrate gratitude for God’s blessings, Parker reported. They give larger donations because they are asked for larger gifts, to help others in need and to set a good example. “Roman Catholics rank 20th of 20 denominations in giving,” Parker said. The top reasons that Catholics give less than other denominations are because they are asked less often, are not asked in person and less emphasis is given to pledging [re-tithing], Parker said.

Father Joseph Scardella, director of the Ministerial Formation Office for the diocese, said that one way to fulfill one’s obligation to stewardship was to become involved in Formation for Ministry. “Twelve hundred people have gone through the Formation for Ministry Program in the diocese since its inception in 1980,” reported Father Scardella. Of that number, it is unclear how many are still active. Formation for Ministry is a two-year program of education, ministerial training, field experience and spiritual preparation of adult Catholics leading to commissioning by the bishop and diocesan certification in a specialized area of ministry. Commissioned lay ministers then volunteer three years of service in the diocese. It is for women and men, mature people of faith willing to accept responsibility for ministry in the church. Each candidate must be recommended and sponsored by a pastor or a director of a diocesan institution. Areas of ministerial formation include youth ministry, parish outreach, pastoral care, family ministry, catechetical ministry, liturgical ministry and others. Anyone interested in learning more about the formation for ministry program can call Father Scardella at the Formation Office at (315) 470-1420.

Other items on the agenda included peer ministry reports from Terry Condon from St. Cecilia Church in Solvay on the confirmation program and by CeCe McDonough from St. Patrick’s Church in Otisco, who explained the stewardship of making parish quilts. The presentations were fitting examples of how parishes can share their time, talent and treasure to help others.

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