The conversation of these priests to their brother priests was honest on all levels about the challenges and blessings of being a collaborative pastor.
On Oct. 3-5 the nine pastors of the Phase V collaboratives gathered for pastor orientation. Over the years, these sessions have been changed to better respond to the suggestions of the priests as to what needs to be considered when serving as the pastor of a collaborative. The meetings were moved from spring to fall to give the pastors a few months to become familiar with their collaborative. With six of the nine pastors being new to their collaborative, meeting in the fall gave them time for reflection on some of the challenges they face as well as some of the advantages to being the pastor of their particular collaborative. The sessions, done in more of a conversational style, focused on the topics of leadership models in a collaborative, evangelizing parishes and the importance of witness. This allowed for more open sharing of one another's experiences and ideas.
One very different reality with this year's pastor orientation was the fact that of the nine collaboratives in Phase V, more are single parish collaboratives than multiple-parish collaboratives. Usually, the reverse is true, with more multiple-parish collaboratives and fewer single parish collaboratives.
When asked to identify challenges they face, the priests were very honest. Some see getting people to change their mindset and welcome ideas about evangelization as a challenge. One priest said he has been reflecting on the way things are being done and questions how he will do things differently especially with limited resources. Several priests spoke about the importance of maintaining parish traditions, and honoring the different cultures while at the same time encouraging the community to grow as one.
This conversation grew even more interesting on the second day of the orientation when three Phase II pastors came to speak to the group. They were: Father Kevin Deeley, pastor of St. Michael Parish, North Andover; Father Scott Euvrard, pastor of the Amesbury/Salisbury Collaborative; and Father Walter Woods, pastor of the Acton/Stow Collaborative. These priests spoke honestly from their experience about the blessings and challenges they had to work through as pastors of a collaborative. Among the blessings named were the following:
-- reconnecting with other priests in the area and in the vicariate
-- watching the spirit of the community grow across the parishes
-- one priest said this ministry has changed the quality of his ministry, not so much administering differently but striving to show the face of Christ more intently
-- feeling more positive about ability to pastor a collaborative
-- the local pastoral plan helps you take a close and honest look at your parish(es)
-- the process of writing a local plan has drawn on the priests' gifts and talents
When asked what have been the challenges faced, the priests were again very honest in their sharing. Some of the challenges were:
-- motivating people was hard
-- there was a complacency among parishioners and staffs
-- everything felt new
-- the timeline for implementation was unrealistic
-- hard to motivate people to take on leadership and to involve people as volunteers
-- facing resistance in staff or parishioners
-- negotiating change that had to take place in both personal and fundamental ways
These new collaborative pastors asked these pastors to share what they did to lead people forward to make a difference. Each one mentioned that prayer has been critical to them in this role of leadership. Additionally, they mentioned they use their homilies as a means of speaking about change and about what it means to be evangelizers. They urged consistency in messaging and the need to over communicate what is going on in the parish(es). One pastor specifically mentioned the importance of being positive in the messaging.
These priests described the process or writing the local pastoral plan as a long but energizing process. One priest said his writing team was incredibly energized and excited and are now actively engaged in the implementation. The plans are a means of focusing the parishioners on Jesus and helping them become more intentional about their discipleship.
The conversation of these priests to their brother priests was honest on all levels about the challenges and blessings of being a collaborative pastor. They expressed the way their lives are being transformed. They spoke about the patience that is needed in this process and that it takes time it takes to turn people's hearts. It was inspiring to be with such dedicated priests. Pray for them and their good efforts.
Sister Pat Boyle is associate director of the Archdiocese of Bostonís Office of Pastoral Planning.