The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) met at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in East Syracuse Sept. 20, discussing the ongoing pastoral planning process and new opportunities available through the Office of Faith Formation. The DPC, which meets four times per year, is composed of lay representatives from parishes across the diocese, clergy and religious, and representatives from diocesan offices and ministries.
Pastoral planning process
Msgr. James Lang, diocesan director of pastoral planning, offered an overview of the current planning process to date and of progress made toward formulating a report for Bishop Robert J. Cunningham’s review.
First, to obtain a “view from the ground,” he said, 125 focus sessions were held around the diocese in the spring of 2013.
From there, “Seeing Natural Bridges,” the diocese’s pastoral planning process, began. Trustees, pastors and clergy, and pastoral council members from each parish and pastoral care area (or PCA, a geographic cluster of contiguous parishes) met for four facilitated sessions.
The first session addressed collaboration and asked participants to “imagine what joint efforts could be done collaboratively between the parishes for the good of all the people who live in that territory,” Msgr. Lang said.
The second session evaluated weekend Mass schedules. Msgr. Lang noted this topic “ratcheted up the intensity of our conversation a bit,” and that, based “simply on the factors of [church seating] capacity and the numbers of people attending Mass, we have about twice as many Masses in the diocese as we need.”
The third session looked at parish staffing in an era when the numbers of priests and religious are diminishing and the average age of lay ecclesial ministers in the diocese is 60. “It’s quite clear to all of us that Father can’t do it all, Father shouldn’t do it all, and in fact if we’re going to be together a vibrant Christian community, everyone needs to begin to identify the ministries that they’re called to in the Spirit,” Msgr. Lang said.
The fourth session addressed finances. “We said, ‘Here are our dreams and here are our finances — how do they work together?’” Msgr. Lang said. Some groups found that in order to achieve their dreams they would “have to change the patterns of the way we use our resources or develop greater numbers of resources,” he added.
Responses gathered from these sessions showed “remarkable unanimity,” Msgr. Lang said. “For instance, everyone is concerned about youth ministry, everyone is concerned about young adult ministry, and everyone is concerned about evangelization and how to do it.”
“Crossing Natural Bridges” asked the PCAs to respond to the common themes raised in the four sessions and to create practical plans and recommendations to address them. Those responses, “every scintilla of paper that we have received, every notion that we have been able to capture, [were] entrusted in both electronic and booklet form [to] the College of Consultors so that they could gather their efforts of trying to winnow down the recommendations from across the diocese,” Msgr. Lang said.
The College of Consultors is composed of the diocese’s regional vicars — Father Philip Hearn, Father Joseph Salerno, Msgr. James O’Brien, Msgr. John Putano and Father Guy Baccaro — Vicar General Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel, Chancellor Msgr. Timothy Elmer, Vicar for Priests Msgr. Richard Kopp, and Msgr. Lang. This body’s aim is to “look at the view from 20,000 feet: What are the factors that affect the whole diocese that individual parishes wouldn’t see but are going to affect our planning for the future?” Msgr. Lang explained.
The College of Consultors has reviewed the material during five five-hour sessions, with two more sessions scheduled to take place, Msgr. Lang said. The College has “begun by going PCA by PCA and parish by parish, reading every recommendation and responding to it and crafting, based on the plans that came out of each PCA, a plan for the future,” he said. Noting that the process is not yet complete, Msgr. Lang said, “This is an organic process — even after it’s in place, the process will continue because there are issues that will continue to be part of our lives.”
Msgr. Lang touched on three areas of particular importance to the College during their review and discussion. First, the College is “examining the canonical options,” he said. “We are all used to parishes being operated in a specific kind of way, so it’s difficult for us as a community to imagine different kinds of ways to be constituted.” He offered the “hub and spokes” model as an example, wherein weekend liturgies are celebrated at a central “hub” parish, and weddings, funerals, faith formation and other parish activities happen at surrounding “spoke” parishes. “There are a number of models for being able to structure parishes and missions in which the parish continues to have life but it’s configured in a different way,” Msgr. Lang added.
The second area is implementing realistic Mass schedules that take into account the number of priests available and the fact that almost twice as many Masses as needed are celebrated across the diocese each weekend. Such schedules “will bring people together for perhaps fewer, but better and more comprehensive, celebrations of the Eucharist,” Msgr. Lang said.
The third area is structuring parishes and priest personnel policies so that the entire diocese can be cared for. “If you look at the aging arc of priests, our birthdays are realities,” Msgr. Lang said. “So the question is, how do we begin to structure those core parishes and our priest personnel situation in a way that we’ve got some flexibility and that allows the bishop to respond to situations as they develop?”
Bishop Robert J. Cunningham spoke about the planning process in his remarks at the close of the meeting.
“With October 1 just a few days away, I am hoping to have a plan on my desk,” he said, referring to the date on which the College is expected to deliver their report to him. “But I don’t want people to have unfounded expectations, unrealistic expectations, or think that on October 2 I’m going to make all these dramatic changes in the diocese. That’s not going to happen.”
Bishop Cunningham said he has been meeting with the College and that he takes very seriously his responsibility “to listen to my advisors and the people of the diocese, but also to my own inner voice.”
He expressed his understanding of what parishes mean to their parishioners and also touched on realities of the future, including the projection that about 80 diocesan priests between the ages of 26 and 75 will be active in the diocese in 2020. He also noted that the diocese is still implementing the pastoral plans first proposed in 2007, and as openings or changes occur, those plans are implemented.
“At the present moment, it is not my intention to close parishes,” he said. “However, that does not mean that parishes will continue to exist in the same way that they have in the past. We need, all of us, to have a new way of thinking.” He went on to speak about “core” parishes, merged parishes with multiple worship sites and parishes led by members of consecrated life, deacons or well qualified laypeople.
“As we prepare for changes that are inevitable, I ask you to be open to the new, be open to change. Not next week or next month, but in an ongoing way as the plans for the diocese take shape,” he said.
Specific information on the pastoral planning process will be made available throughout the year on the diocese’s website, www.syrdio.org, and through communications to parishes, diocesan Director of Communications and Assistant Chancellor Danielle Cummings told the Sun in a follow-up interview.
Sister Laura Bufano welcomed back to diocese
The DPC was also introduced — or re-introduced — to the newest member of the Office of Pastoral Planning, Sister Laura Bufano, CSJ. A native of Syracuse, Sister Laura recently completed six years in St. Louis, Missouri, as the Congregational Director of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She served for eight years as a member of the Albany Province Leadership Team of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and, in the Diocese of Syracuse, has served as a liturgical ministry specialist for the Cortland County PCA, diocesan director of liturgy, co–director for the diocesan Office of Vocations, pastoral associate coordinating liturgical ministries at St. John the Evangelist in New Hartford and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Liverpool and as a music educator at St. Anthony of Padua in Syracuse. She returned to the diocese to serve as an associate director of the Office of Pastoral Planning, starting on Sept. 8.
Sister Laura started her talk with a few bars from a song by Sister Kathy Sherman of the Congregation of St. Joseph: “I am with you/ On the journey/ And I will never leave you.” She offered bit of background on her journey to her newest ministry and some insight on why she ultimately said yes to the invitation to serve in the Office of Pastoral Planning.
“My experience in both province and congregational leadership taught me a great deal about how important it is to claim our uniqueness and maintain our integrity in the midst of diversity and, at the same time, to be conscious of the whole. That awareness, that perspective of being able to see the big picture, to have a sense of the whole, to see with new eyes, is part of what I bring to the Office of Pastoral Planning,” she said.
New courses, events offered by Office of Faith Formation
Noting that “there’s nothing more important to the growth of the Church than the faith formation of our young people,” Bishop Cunningham underlined the importance of ensuring the catechists who teach students about the faith are well-trained and well-formed themselves. “We have made a big push in the diocese to make sure our catechists are properly formed, properly trained, and have the education credentials that they need,” he said.
Diocesan Director of the Office of Faith Formation Cathy Cornue said that the availability of online catechist certification courses has “resulted in quite an upsurge in catechist formation.” Last year, she said, 63 people were certified, almost three times as many people as were certified the year before.
Numerous level one catechist certification courses are being offered online during the 2014-15 academic year; those interested can browse and register for courses at faithformationevents.weebly.com. In-person courses are still available, however; parishes interested in hosting in-person courses should contact their regional Office of Faith Formation for more information.
The office will also host several webinars. Cornue will offer “Year Round Catechesis” on Oct. 30; Deanne Hall will offer “When Kids Can’t Come to Class” on Jan. 21; and Connie Armstrong will host “Milestone Ministry” on April 22. Visit faithformationevents.weebly.com for descriptions and to register.
“Things have changed a lot,” Cornue said. “We can’t expect everybody to show up Wednesday night at 7 o’clock in the church hall, so we’re using the Internet to find new ways to share the Good News.”
The meeting closed with remarks from Bishop Cunningham and a brief question-and-answer session. The next DPC meeting will be held Nov. 15.