Diocesan Pastoral Council explores the journey of transition

By Claudia Mathis
Staff writer

At a gathering of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) on Nov. 13, international speaker Maureen Gallagher guided council members through the process of change within parishes. Gallagher explained the different stages of transition and also spoke about planning, relationships, conflict resolution and communication tools.

Gallagher co-authored the book The Art of Change: Faith, Vision and Prophetic Planning. She has more than 30 years of experience in leadership, planning and organizational development. She has worked for the Diocese of Madison, Wis. and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wis. in these areas and has also written educational and planning materials.

Father James Lang, Vicar for Parishes, introduced Gallagher as his long-time friend. “She brings to us a wide range of experience,” said Father Lang. “She asks us to look at what God is saying to us.”

Gallagher had given six presentations about change to various organizations within the Syracuse Diocese during the week preceding the DPC meeting.

Gallagher began her presentation by asking the council members what insights they would like to gain about the execution of a successful transition. The members responded with a number of ideas. They wanted to know more about how to evangelize, how to get the laity more involved in the liturgy, how to encourage people to be open to and be excited about change and the best ways to present the new Roman Missal to parishioners.

Gallagher said that transition is a process of change that has three stages: endings, the wilderness zone (in between) and new beginnings. It also happens on three levels: personal, interpersonal and structural.

“The wilderness zone is not a good place to be,” commented Gallagher. “It’s a time of pain and of not knowing what it will be like in that new parish.”

The facilitator asked those in attendance who had gone through transitions in their parish to think about what it was like for them as they went through the wilderness zone.

Larry Corwin, parishioner at Church of the Holy Family in Endwell, reflected on how he felt when Christ the King and Our Lady of Angels in Endwell merged in August 2009. “I was excited about the changes, but there were some challenging moments,” Corwin said. “Also, some of the dynamics changed — the music ministry had to change, so the pastor brought in new talents.”

Gallagher said that working through the wilderness zone provides an opportunity to grow spiritually. “It enhances your prayer life — that’s one of the riches of going through the wilderness zone.”

Gallagher suggested some ways in which to transition out of the wilderness zone. She said remembering the past, acknowledging the strengths and struggles of the present, attending to the hurts and losses and things to let go of and reflecting on God’s word when planning and visioning for the future would help immensely. “We are called to see God as we complete these tasks along the journey,” said Gallagher.

Bill Winnewisser, representing St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Baldwinsville, reported to DPC members that his council had implemented a tool to facilitate evangelization in the parish. By dividing the parish into six districts, they had increased the direct communication with parishioners. “We solicited their comments and ideas,” said Winnewisser. “It was an expression of our interest in their comments and concerns.” He added that the change they made helps to resolve issues and provides a way to assimilate new parishioners into the church.

Joe Morra, also from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, told of how the parish council has evangelized by including two high school students. “Our group of 15-20 adults love to see them there,” said Morra. “They are very actively involved in our discussions and they give us some very good input. It’s a wonderful thing for evangelizing — it shows the kids that you’re really interested in them.”

Kit Parker, diocesan director of the Office of Stewardship & Development, gave an update on the Increased Offering Program, “Together in Faith for the Future.” It will be conducted from January 2011 to March 2012, with an exception for the HOPE Appeal blackout period. Parker said that there has been an increase in parish income, ranging between 15 to 30 percent, with the average being 23 percent. He also said that the HOPE Appeal had met its goal. As of Nov. 12, $4,153,457 had been pledged.

The meeting concluded with Bishop Robert Cunningham answering some questions posed by those in attendance.

The question of what can parishes do to be more welcoming was asked. The bishop responded, “We all have to reach out in any way that we can.”

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