The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) held its first plenary session of 2014 at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in East Syracuse March 22. The DPC is composed of lay representatives from parishes across the diocese, clergy and religious, and representatives from diocesan offices and ministries. DPC sessions, which occur four times per year, offer an opportunity for council members to discuss and share information on key diocesan concerns and programs. On the agenda for this meeting were updates on the ongoing pastoral planning process, a presentation on the Emmaus outreach ministry at St. James Church in Syracuse and a discussion of diocesan grants available to support young adult evangelization.
Pastoral planning process
Brother Ed Falsey, diocesan associate director for pastoral planning, presented an update on the ongoing pastoral planning process, including the spring 2013 focus sessions and the current “Seeing Natural Bridges: A Collaborative Planning Process” effort.
Brother Ed said he and Msgr. James Lang first met with focus groups from across the diocese to talk about the status of the diocese and future projections. Along with that, he said, came a challenge from the College of Consultors and the bishop for the pastoral care areas (PCAs) — a geographic cluster of contiguous parishes — “to come up with recommendations for the next stage of where the diocese is moving.” PCAs were then set up, as were initial meetings with the PCAs. Since then the planning process has been taking place, with some groups still meeting and reports beginning to come in, he said. Those reports will be compiled into a report for Bishop Cunningham.
With the focus groups, Brother Ed and Msgr. Lang discussed the current state of the diocese and projections for the future, the decline in Mass attendance in the last 15 years, the changing demographics of the diocese and the declining number of priests available. The focus groups made recommendations on realigning the PCAs, preparing to use Parish Life Directors, preparing specifications and roles for other parish pastoral leaders, renewing a parish-level communication plan, providing training for pastors in models of ministry that include lay leadership, reviewing the flexibility of the priest and deacon personnel processes and exploring how to best engage in the new evangelization.
PCAs were then set up with input from the regional vicars, priest listening sessions and chancery staff. “We came to realize — at least I certainly did — that there’s no perfect solution for pastoral care areas,” Brother Ed said. “But I think we came up with some of the best ways.”
Brother Ed and Msgr. Lang then began meeting with PCAs. Planning groups were set up with trustees, parish council leaders and pastors. They were presented with “Seeing Natural Bridges,” the diocese’s pastoral planning process. Facilitators tasked with leading PCAs through the process were then identified and trained.
“Seeing Natural Bridges” was developed with national and diocesan input, and the process is composed of four sessions of discussion and reporting. The four meetings focused on collaborations and evangelization; Mass schedules and inter-parish activities; future staffing and vision; and reality, finances and the future.
“For the most part, I believe the process has generated a lot of good, positive discussion. People are starting to see beyond their own parish identities,” Brother Ed said, adding that about 95 percent of the groups participated.
Brother Ed presented preliminary findings from the PCA reports, noting that they are by no means comprehensive.
Common themes emerging from the first meetings were the needs of parishes around engaging and evangelizing, areas of potential parish collaboration, evangelization efforts in parishes, and developing processes for better communication in and between the parishes and with the diocese.
The second meetings’ common themes were opportunities for inter-parish collaboration and developing the PCA’s identity while maintaining the identity of parishes.
Themes resulting from the third meetings included the need to identify parish staffing roles where training is needed; opportunities for better using “consultative bodies,” such as the finance and pastoral councils; and the identification of groups parishes can reach out to by working together, such as young families, the elderly and college students.
Meeting four’s themes included the financial and leadership concerns facing parishes; the need for better internal communication; and the information PCAs need from the diocese, such as how the information gathered will be used and the timeline envisioned for changes to be implemented.
Brother Ed said many groups are “chomping at the bit and are ready to move forward.” The results of the planning process need to be processed with the bishop and the College of Consultors, “and the next step will be some concrete planning that we’ll ask the pastoral care area planning groups to do,” probably in the fall, he said. In a follow-up interview, Msgr. Lang indicated that planning may happen sooner. Brother Ed later added that he hoped to provide the bishop and the College of Consultors with a report in mid- to late April.
Three PCA facilitators — Connie Whitton, who facilitated the PCA composed of parishes on the South side of Syracuse; John Buda, who facilitated the Fulton-area PCA; and Don Lynch, who facilitated the Baldwinsville-area PCA — offered comments on their experiences of the planning process.
“One of the positive outcomes of it was just the fact that we met as individuals that were all going through the same situation and we were able to interact with each other and discuss our concerns, our fears, how we handle different things…. But we were all together in it, and that was very comforting and that was actually very important,” said Buda. Each PCA’s unique demographics and geography need to be addressed when making decisions, he added. “We can’t simply do a reaction to a process, we actually have to analyze, plan, and then we have to carefully implement and consider all the consequences. Things won’t always turn out the way we want them to and we won’t make everyone happy, but we have to look at the big picture. Good planning and implementation are essential,” Buda said.
Sheila Austin, coordinator of the Emmaus Ministry at St. James Church in Syracuse, spoke about the ministry’s work to bring the presence of Christ to those outside the walls of the church. Emmaus Ministry is a ministry of evangelization, she said, as well as ministry of “presence and service to the peripheries,” where people are in need. Austin urged those at the meeting to consider how they may undertake such ministries in their own parish communities.
The first stepping stone for the ministry in 2009, Austin said, was making sandwiches for the men at Catholic Charities’ emergency shelter. Today, the ministry has expanded to include numerous additional outreach efforts, such as an annual neighborhood summer cookout, foot care and haircuts at the Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter, one-on-one ministry to those who are living on the street, and the Hope Mobile, a van used to deliver coffee, soup, toothpaste and soap to those who are homeless.
The ministry’s expansion is due in large part to the numerous parish, community and school groups that have offered support and involvement, Austin said. She offered a few of the ministry’s statistics from 2013: 9,600 meals served to the Men’s Shelter; 2,200 meals served at the Bishop Foery Foundation and Butternut Community Policing Center; 1,400 cups of coffee served in shelters and on the streets; 1,200 pairs of socks collected and distributed; 600 popsicles distributed at the cookout and in the neighborhood; and 260 cups of soup served on the streets. “I think it’s very telling of what people can do when they put their minds to it and when you have the collaboration of people around you,” Austin said.
Austin added that typically food is the way people start evangelizing and reaching the peripheries. “They [the homeless] are hungry, but they’re probably more hungry for your presence, for your interaction, to be noticed, to be looked at, more than anything else. But food gets us there. It starts the conversation and the relationship,” she said.
Austin also shared the stories of several people who have been served through Emmaus, including Mike, who was present at the meeting. Austin first met Mike at the men’s shelter five years ago. He was in tough times, but was willing to do what he needed to get out and be present to his son, she said, and he is now employed and living in his own place.
Austin closed her presentation by handing out paper lunch sacks containing socks, crackers and some candy. She often gets asked about how to help people who are panhandling, she said, and one way would be passing off the bag, “a simple way to get started.”
Young adult evangelization grants
Bob Walters, diocesan director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, offered guidance on Heritage grants available through his office. These grants are designed to support evangelization efforts to young adults ages 18 to 39.
Young adults in their 20s and 30s are the largest demographic in the church today, and they’re also among the least religious, Walters said. Young adults include college students, but also young singles, married couples and families.
Heritage grants are specifically for evangelization efforts aimed at young adults and are available to every single parish in the diocese, Walters said. Heritage grants are funding streams separate from McDevitt evangelization grants made through the diocese’s Stewardship and Development Office, he also noted.
A total pool of $100,000 in Heritage grant money is available, with a maximum grant of $7,500 available to each parish. Successful grants have the potential to be renewed for an additional two years.
The grants are intended to support new, creative efforts, not current initiatives, Walters said. He cited the example of Ss. John and Andrew Parish in Binghamton, which provided care packages for students going away to college. He also noted that some parishes use half of their Heritage grant money to provide a stipend for a young adult ministry coordinator and the other half to provide small group ministry activities in the parish.
As a means of supporting parishes’ efforts to evangelize young adults, the diocese tries to offer large group gathering events, such as Theology on Tap and First Friday Masses, Walters noted. “We do those things primarily in Syracuse, so the regions have asked us to begin these ministries in Utica and in Binghamton,” he said. Walters hopes to be able to offer those ministries in the Eastern and Southern Regions in the fall.
Heritage grant applications, which are to include a brief proposal narrative and a requested budget, are due May 8. Application materials can be found on the Young Adult Ministry page of the diocesan website, www.syrdio.org. All application materials must be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The meeting ended with a question-and-answer session with Bishop Cunningham. The next DPC meeting will be held May 17.