By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz has published his new pastoral letter, entitled “Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive in Our Midst,” in this week’s issue of The Record.
The 2,500-word document is a guide intended to help shape a process of renewal within the 110 parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville, said the archbishop in an interview at the Chancery last week.
This is Archbishop Kurtz’s first pastoral letter to come solely from his office. He and Kentucky’s three other bishops collectively issued a pastoral letter called “Just Work” in 2007, the year he became Archbishop of Louisville.
A pastoral letter is an open letter from a bishop to the clergy or the laity of his diocese. The last pastoral letter to come solely from the Archbishop of Louisville was issued in 1990 by Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly on “Teaching and Sharing Our Faith: Lifelong Formation and Education in the Archdiocese of Louisville.”
Archbishop Kurtz’s letter, which he addresses to the “faithful of the archdiocese,” opens with a brief history of the church’s first communities, established by St. Paul in the first decades after Christ’s ascension. St. Paul, he notes, thought of the early church communities as not mere gatherings of believers, but “the Body of Christ.”
In the same way, the Archdiocese of Louisville can be described as “110 parishes growing more deeply into the Body of Christ” and helping one another do so, he writes in the letter.
He goes on to announce in the letter, officially dated Dec. 30, 2016, “exciting plans” for parishes in the archdiocese.
“I write to tell you of exciting plans for a process of discernment in your parish as we seek the direction of the Lord Jesus for us over the next decade,” writes the archbishop. “I invite you, the faithful, to join my brother priests and me as together we embark on a renewal of our parish life by growing more deeply as the Body of Christ.”
This renewal, says the pastoral, includes five areas for growth as the Body of Christ — growth in holiness, parish membership, outreach to those who are distant from the church, service to those in need and generosity beyond parish boundaries.
“To grow in Christ,” he writes, “is to become more deeply a vibrant parish — becoming more deeply the Body of Christ.”
The archbishop said he decided to write the letter after participating in three recent synods (special meetings of bishops with the pope), archdiocesan planning discussions and reflecting on his own “cherished and valued” experience as pastor.
“As part of our regular planning we found that the primary focus should be to help parishes discern how to be vibrant, announce the Good News and serve,” said the archbishop.
The archbishop hopes parishes will seek and find renewal after a period of “discernment,” which the letter invites each parish to embrace.
This discernment period is scheduled to begin this spring in eight parishes around the archdiocese, said Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese. Reynolds describes the process as a “parish-based study and reflection.”
“It will involve parishes studying and reflecting on the letter, asking where do they see themselves as a parish and discussing ways to grow and what resources” they need to do so. Parish leaders will form individual groups to lead the discernment process. The remainder of the parishes will be invited to start their discernment in the fall of 2017 or spring of 2018 said Reynolds.
Parishes will receive guidance during this reflection period from GP Catholic — an organization whose mission is to serve “Church leaders as they engage the faithful in discerning God’s call and respond in a way that gives glory to God,” according to the group’s website. GP Catholic will provide training and resources for those who will take part in the discernment, said Reynolds.
Archbishop Kurtz writes in his pastoral letter that such a discernment “begins with five major movements” within a parish. These movements are:
- To pray “both individually and as a parish community.”
- “To listen attentively, both individually and communally, with the ears of Christ” and be open to emerging needs of the parish and broader community.
- “To celebrate the many gifts that are part of your heritage as a parish.”
- “To decide where you are being called to grow as a vibrant parish and what is needed to get there.”
- “To develop the necessary resources to support the steps you need to take within your parish.”
Reynolds noted that the archbishop is the “chief teacher of the faith” in the Archdiocese of Louisville and said this letter is part of his teaching. It serves as a “way for people to more deeply understand the message of the bishop.”
The appropriate response from the faithful, he said, is to “hear the message and pray to hear how God is speaking through the teaching office of the archbishop.” Having heard and reflected, integrating the message into their lives and the lives of the faith communities is the next step, said Reynolds.
Read Archbishop Kurtz’s pastoral letter in The Record’s e-Edition.