Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., has identified five goals for Faith in Our Future:
Planning is an ongoing responsibility in any organization. At present, there are many indications that it is time to take a comprehensive look at the configuration of parishes, their facilities, their staffing, ministry practices and outreach in order to more effectively proclaim the Gospel and pass on the faith to a new generation. Among these indicators in the Diocese of Trenton are:
The percentage of Catholics in the general population is declining.
The number of Latino Catholics in the total Catholic population is growing.
Weekly Mass attendance and number of individuals celebrating sacraments is decreasing.
Many parishes struggle financially.
A large number of priests and religious in active ministry are reaching retirement age.
Each parish will have a core team composed of the pastor and four parish members. Core teams have the responsibility to see that the required work is completed, but they don’t do that alone. They will collaborate with the parish pastoral and finance councils, as well as engage with parishioners across all ministries and populations in the parish. Parish staff members do not serve on the core team, but should be active participants in the process as it is implemented in the parish.
At first, each parish will work on its own, under the leadership of the parish core team, to conduct an evaluation of the parish and to complete other tasks assigned. The parish core team will engage parishioners in conversations about planning for the future.
After a few months, parishes will align in groups of three to five neighboring parishes called a “cohort.” The parish core teams within a cohort will discuss their strengths and struggles, and share “best thinking” about the future. Together, the cohort of parishes will make suggestions for the future that propose particular ways the parishes in a given area could work together and respond to each of the five goals of the Faith in Our Future process.
The Planning phase of the process will begin in Advent 2015 and take place over the course of a year.
Parishes, working together in cohorts (or groups), will submit their suggestions to the Diocesan Planning Commission by June 1, 2016. The Diocesan Planning Commission will make preliminary recommendations, and send them back to each cohort for review and a response by the end of September 2016. Final recommendations will be made to Bishop O’Connell at the end of October 2016. The Bishop will formally announce his decisions in Advent 2016.
After a period of preparation, the implementation phase will begin on July 1, 2017 and last at least one year.
Creating opportunities for parishioners to share their ideas and voice concerns is central to Faith in Our Future. Parish core teams may use parish surveys, town hall meetings, focus groups and other ways to hear from as many members of the parish as possible. The more that peoples’ hopes for the future can be realized and their needs addressed, the greater the likelihood that they will become involved in the parish’s life and its mission.
This project is not fundamentally about merging parishes or getting smaller. Faith in Our Future is about growing in faith and spreading the Gospel more effectively. In our present circumstances, too much of the focus has come to be on diminishing resources and maintaining “the way it has always been.”
Canon law provides quite a variety of structures and leadership models which can be considered in order to maximize the resources available for mission and best organize for ministry. Merging is only one of the models that core teams can consider as they make suggestions and responses about their future. The six models available for consideration are:
1. Collaboration between parishes.
2. Linkage between two parishes.
3. Merger of two or more parishes into a new parish.
4. A team of priests sharing responsibility for a group of parishes.
5. Lay, religious or deacon leadership of parish, working with a priest sacramental minister.
6. “Personal” parishes established to meet particular needs.
Bishop O’Connell wants core teams to explore each of the models and consider which will be best in each case to strengthen parishes and diocesan ministries in a given area of the Diocese for the future.
Schools are an important part of the ministry of the Church in the Diocese of Trenton. Any parish with an elementary or high school is asked to include consideration of these schools as part of their parish evaluation. Parishes without a school of their own are asked to consider how their parishes support Catholic schools in their area, or the ministry of Catholic schools in the Diocese as a whole.
Most definitely. Data regarding the sacramental life and financial condition of each parish and the realities of population, Mass attendance, parish size and more will be given to the core teams for study. Core teams are to ground their work in the realities of their parish, and the realities of life in the Diocese of Trenton.
There is no direct monetary cost to parishes for Faith in Our Future. The process will be funded at the diocesan level. There is an investment, however, to be made by each parish in terms of the time and energy required from those on the core team, those involved in parish evaluations, and those who will participate in surveys, focus groups, task forces or town hall meetings.
Faith in Our Future will ask all the parishes of the Diocese of Trenton to participate in a planning process at the same time. The recommendations made to the Bishop at the conclusion of this process will impact every parish. Parishes that have been part of a study in the past should be aware that the people and the environment, the resources of the Diocese, and the circumstances of the parish have continued to change in the ensuing years. It is, essentially, a new time. Faith in Our Future represents an opportunity to evaluate parish life and outreach as it is currently experienced, to converse with cohort partners, and to be a part of shaping the future for ministry in the Diocese of Trenton.
There is an infrastructure built into the process which the Diocese can sustain to engage in planning for the foreseeable future.
At the conclusion of the planning phase in November 2016, an Implementation Commission will be established to monitor the progress of implementation, putting into practice the decisions made by the Bishop.
Each cohort will be asked to prepare an action plan for Year One of implementation, followed by a report and an action plan for succeeding years to be monitored by the Implementation Commission. The Diocesan Planning Office and the Implementation Commission will work with the Bishop and the Presbyteral Council to ensure ongoing positive action.
The most successful dioceses that have gone through this process have much good news to report — more vital parishes, ministries strengthened by collaboration, thriving newly-merged parishes, more involved lay leaders, better allocation of financial and human resources, greater availability of diocesan ministries to all parishes, and more.
Both projects begin with faith because faith is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. As a Diocese, we are eager to build upon the past. Faith in Our Future will help us to envision strong parish communities and diocesan ministries that will be effective into the future. People providing financial support through Faith to Move Mountains are making an investment in the future, providing needed resources to pursue our shared priorities. Together, the Faith in Our Future planning process and the Faith to Move Mountains endowment campaign will result in actions that respond to the challenges of our day and move the Diocese of Trenton confidently forward into the future.
These projects complement each other. The people can be reassured that both projects embrace the optimal use of all resources in the Diocese by being intentional and prudent in planning and investing.