As pastorates are developed, Archbishop Lori calls for ‘mission focus’

By Christopher Gunty
When he made his first holy Communion in the 1950s, about 75 percent of Catholics attended Sunday Mass, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore told the priests of the archdiocese Sept. 29.
These days, that has flipped, and about 25 percent or less of Catholics attend Mass on weekends.
That trend is one of the major factors driving the archdiocesan planning process, which includes the introduction of “pastorates” as a way of organizing parishes. Each parish will be part of a pastorate that will have a single pastoral leader and leadership team. Pastorates will consist of a single parish or a group of parishes.
The planning process has been formally underway since the release of the archbishop’s pastoral letter, “A Light Brightly Visible,” in July 2015.
The most compelling case for change is the loss of so many Catholics to the active practice of the faith, the archbishop told the priests. He noted some people say the church shouldn’t be so concerned with numbers.
“Let me say a word about numbers,” the archbishop said. “Numbers represent people, people created in God’s image and called to friendship with him, now and eternally, people called to be the Body of Christ.”
The archbishop noted that after the Apostles preached on the first Pentecost, Scripture notes that 3,000 people were added to the faith that day. “I firmly believe that Jesus would not have told us to go out and baptize all the nations if he didn’t want us to gather into his assembly, to his community, to his church, as many people as we can. … I hope you and I can experience the restlessness of true missionaries.”
The archbishop made it clear throughout his talk that the heart of the planning process is what Pope Francis calls ‘missionary conversion’.”

Prior to 2000, CARA reports Gallup estimates of the percentage attending in any given week adjusted for the effects of social desirability bias. From 2000 on the data are from the CARA Catholic Poll (CCP) and represents the percentage of U.S. adult Catholics who say they attended Mass every week. (Courtesy CARA)

Focus on mission
Archbishop Lori told the priests gathered at St. Mary’s Seminary in Roland Park that when he was installed as the 16th archbishop of Baltimore, he sought the advice of priests and others in the archdiocese.
“I decided not to take the advice either of those who said I should quickly come in and close a lot of parishes and I also decided not to take the advice of those who said to me, ‘You’ve got to hang on to everything you’ve got no matter what,’ ” he said.
He decided to focus on the mission of the church, with the under­standing that the mission will be expressed differently in various parts of  the arch­diocese.
Hard realities indicate the church cannot keep doing what it has been doing, and that planning needs to be focused on the church’s mission, which begins with personal conversion.
“Without conversion, there is no mission,” he said. “Conversion is the overturning of our very existence as the result of a living encounter with Christ – an encounter that makes us much more than adherents to Christianity as a mere system of ideas. Instead it makes us disciples, followers, active members of the body of Christ.”
He noted Pope Francis is calling for a personal conversion to Christ before we can transform the ministries and the people we serve.
“Our parishes need to be hubs of missionary activity where there is at least a critical mass of missionary disciples who are ready, willing and able – and equipped to go out – to visit, to help people find their way back to the church, accompany them back to the church, and to make sure that once they get back, it’s not just a handshake at the door, but an embrace and a protracted effort to really integrate them into the worshipping community,” the archbishop said.
Implementation of pastorates will vary from place to place and from one cultural community to another, he said. The issue is how to configure the archdiocese and its parishes to do this and how to marshal the church’s resources to accomplish the mission.

Clergy process into the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland during the 2016 Chrism Mass. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Process sought feedback
The daylong meeting with priests followed a number of elements in the planning process, including regional meetings with priests in early 2015, release of the archbishop’s pastoral letter in July 2015, and a survey in November 2015 that compiled feedback from nearly 30,000 parishioners throughout the archdiocese.
This year, the planning process was advanced by looking at data from all the parishes, and working with a “design team” made up of pastors and key staff members at the Catholic Center. The design team proposed a model of a new way to organize pastorates.
The model was presented to a joint meeting of the Presbyteral Council (an advisory committee of priests to the archbishop), the College of Consultors and vicars forane in early September. Feedback from that meeting shaped the proposed pastorate model presented to all priests and parish life directors at the meeting at the seminary.
Daphne Daly, director of the archdiocesan Office of Pastoral Planning, told the group that implementation of the final pastorate model will unfold over a couple of years – “not tomorrow, not next month, probably not even six months from now.”
In the late September meeting, pastors met in small groups by region to see which parishes in their area would be grouped together in proposed pastorates, and provide feedback on whether the model supports the creation of vibrant, sustainable and evangelizing pastorates, and how those pastorates could support missionary conversion and evangelization. The pastors and pastoral life directors also gave feedback on suggested modifications to the proposed pastorate model.
The design team considered feedback from the Sept. 29 meeting to present a revised model to Archbishop Lori and his senior leadership team. The revised model is being presented publicly to pastors, parish staff and parishioners in early October. Each pastor and four representatives of his parish leadership will have an opportunity to comment on the revised model in regional meetings in early November.

Father Patrick Carrion, pastor of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, baptizes a baby May 1 at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Baltimore. (CR File)

‘Manageable and realistic’
Monsignor Jay O’Connor, pastor of Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville, is a member of the design team that has been studying the proposed model. He said the focus needs to be on mission and what’s best for the archdiocese as a whole, with evangelization and pastoral service at the forefront.
“That really is a guiding principle,” he said. “As you look at the pastorates, each should be of a size that’s manageable and realistic.”
He said it is important to provide adequate staffing for each pastorate and a manageable scope of work for priests, lay ecclesial ministers and deacons. While each pastorate will have one pastor, additional associate pastors or senior associates may be assigned to assist with sacramental and other needs. Under the guiding principles, no priest should celebrate more than three Sunday Masses each weekend, including the Saturday vigil Mass.

An altar server carries a crucifix at the 125th anniversary Mass of St. Clement I Parish in Lansdowne Aug 28. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Vibrant worship
Daly, of the planning office, said the three-Mass limit supports the overall health of priests and encourages a vibrant liturgical and worship ­experience.
She also said the proposed plan expects that if the pastor has “a great staff and great lay leadership and a lot of confidence in this team of people who are supporting him, he’s able to care not only for the pastorate but to take care of himself,” by taking time to meet with his priestly prayer and support group and refreshing himself spiritually in other ways.
Daly said the tendency in adopting the pastorate model will be simply to find ways to pastor two or more parishes more efficiently and effectively, but that misses the points Archbishop Lori made about moving from maintenance of parish structures to the mission of the church.
She said pastorates must find ways to reach young adults and support the domestic church – the family in the home.
“How can our events be ever-more mission driven?” Daly asked. “It’s not just going to happen by doing an administrative realignment. We have to be thinking about how we are radically reaching out to people and inviting them into our communities in a loving and merciful way.”
She noted there are many ways to make disciples and effect a change toward missionary conversion.

Young men pray in April 2015 at St. Bernardine in West Baltimore. (CR File)

Monsignor O’Connor’s parish will become a single-parish pastorate – one parish now and one pastorate in the new model. “My sense is that while the structure of the pastorate won’t change, there will be a need for recommitment to mission and vision,” he said.
Just because a parish stands by itself doesn’t mean business as usual, Monsignor O’Connor noted.
“One of the first things we would need to do – and I suspect every parish – we need to create a new way of understanding the parish,” he said. “It’s not a service center where people just come to get their needs met. It’s a mission center where they come to be empowered to go forth to spread the word of Christ.”
Father Edward Hendricks has been through this process before. As pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in western Maryland, he knows the process can work. “It was our decision to merge four parishes into one,” he said. “We are stronger spiritually, stronger financially. … The hard work this is calling for has been fruitful,” he told his brother priests during the feedback portion of the meeting.
In an interview with the Catholic Review the following day, he acknowledged that the process for his parish was much longer than the new parish planning process envisions. Planning in the two westernmost counties of the archdiocese, Allegany and Garrett, began in 1992. The area has seen four planning commissions and it was obvious in the 1990s that due to resources and other concerns there would be fewer parishes in the county.
After Our Lady of the Mountains Parish in Cumberland was formed by the merger of five parishes, the parishes that now make up Divine Mercy began their effort in earnest.
“I believe you have to make sure you’re very transparent with what you’re doing. I began with the (parish) corporators. When they were on board, they took it to the pastoral council and finance council,” he said.
“The important thing is to work together with people of the parish, staff, lay leadership, through every step of the process. Be open to meetings and questions.”
He emphasized there is no single way to bring parishes together. The process used in Frostburg, Grantsville, Midland and Westernport won’t necessarily work in other areas.
Father Hendricks, who is also a member of the archdiocesan design team, said it’s not the intent of the process to force pastors and parishes to merge their parishes. “It’s up to the pastors to determine what process to follow. If a pastor chooses closures (of buildings), that’s one thing. But we’re not coming at this with that,” he said.

Catholics usher in the Holy Year of Mercy in December 2015 at Our Lady of the Mountains’ Shrine of Ss. Peter and Paul in Cumberland. (CR File)

Establishing trust
Father T. Austin Murphy Jr. is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Dundalk and St. Luke Parish in Edgemere. In the feedback session, he told his brother priests that it is possible to be pastor of more than one parish at a time. After the session, he said a good working relationship does not happen immediately.
“This isn’t impossible,” he said. The process takes time – but there is time to do this. “It starts as a challenge, because there’s suspicion” from people who wonder if their parish is closing or the Mass they prefer will be canceled. “There’s that initial establishing trust with them and letting them know that you love them, you care about them and you want to learn from them.”
It doesn’t necessarily mean that one of the parishes is closing. “They’re individuals,” Father Murphy said, noting that while the parishes maintain their own identities, the pastor still serves as the spiritual father.
He said for his own well-being as a pastor of two locations, he established one finance committee, one pastoral council and one maintenance committee. “You can manage multiple campuses, multiple spaces with one team,” he said. “We’re now at the point where we’re starting to merge staff.”
He said the experience of the person in the pew doesn’t necessarily change much, at least not initially, because his parishes remain open, and Mass schedules in Dundalk-area parishes had been consolidated and coordinated before he arrived there.
From his perspective, “I look at it as I have one very big parish made up of two parishes.” He responds to a phone call from either parish the same way, but he notes, “There’s only one of me. … You begin to share that pastoral ministry with appropriate pastoral ministers and trusting each other to do a good job goes a long way.”
He said it helps that his parishes have an associate pastor, a deacon and talented lay minsters who can share the pastoral work, including funerals and other ministries where a priest traditionally has been present.
In his comments after the small group discussions on proposed pastorates, Archbishop Lori reminded the group that priests are bridge-builders. “We have to build bridges if we’re going to achieve this,” he said, noting that many parishes already are working together in formal and informal ways.
“The comment period did not close 15 minutes ago,” the archbishop added, inviting the priests to reflect on what they had heard.
“We recognize changes (to the proposed pastorate model) will come from this meeting and changes will come from the November meetings,” he said.

Pastorate model emerges
After the November regional meetings, the design team will look again at the proposed pastorate model. A final version will be presented to the archbishop, who will ratify a new model for the whole archdiocese in early 2017.
It’s expected that the process of creating pastorates will take a couple of years, taking into account retirement of current pastors and the opportunity to reassign clergy. As that occurs, parishes assigned together in pastorates will begin to work together on how best to achieve the goals of sustaining a vibrant community that spreads the mission of the church. 

Also see:

Mission is at heart of pastoral planning in Archdiocese of Baltimore

Archbishop Lori updates planning strategy

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.