Parishes to embark on discernment process

Pastoral Letter-wBy Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville have been invited to take part in a formal process of discernment in the coming year. Through study, prayer and small group discussions, participating parishes will consider, “How is God asking us to grow?”

The process was developed by archdiocesan leaders and GP Catholic Services — a consulting group that will also help lead the process — in response to a pastoral letter issued by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, “Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive in Our Midst.”

The letter, issued early this year, asks parishioners from across the archdiocese to reflect on ways “to become more deeply a vibrant parish — becoming more deeply the Body of Christ.”

“We are not simply concerned with growth in numbers, programs, or facilities,” the archbishop writes in the letter. “We want to grow in holiness by deepening and maturing our faith to discern God’s will for us as individuals, families, and parish communities.”

In a phone interview last week, the archbishop added, “We are always discerning where God’s grace is alive in our hearts and in our communities. This is exactly what the parish discernment process is about — renewing the touch-point of God’s grace.”

In preparation for the parish discernment process in their parishes, Catholics are encouraged to read the archbishop’s pastoral letter. 

A different kind of campaign

While fund-raising campaigns ask parishioners to invest their dollars in the church’s future, the parish discernment process is asking parishioners to invest their spiritual lives and vision.

The seeds for this very different sort of endeavor germinated in the spring of 2016, when the archdiocese, with the help of GP Catholic, surveyed the archdiocese’s 110 parishes for a feasibility study.

The purpose of the survey was to determine if it was too soon for another capital campaign, said Tink Guthrie, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Mission Advancement. The study told them, yes, it was too soon, Guthrie said.

The archdiocese’s last capital campaign — Building a Future of Hope — was conducted in four waves between 2008-2010, with pledges still being paid into 2015, and raised about $42.6 million.

Guthrie said the study showed that parishes are interested in looking to the future.

“We heard feedback from every parish about the priorities of the parish, about the vitality and growth of the parish and its ministries,” Guthrie said.

Archbishop Kurtz heard similar sentiments at regional priests’ meetings and listening sessions. This information led the archbishop to write the pastoral letter, as a way to support parishes in their efforts to look to the future. And ultimately, the parish discernment process was born.

Participation

So far, more than 70 percent of parishes in the archdiocese have committed to the discernment process, which is optional.

Six parishes have already begun a pilot process, and they are about three-fourths of the way through. The pilot parishes represent a “great cross section” of churches in the archdiocese, Guthrie said. The parishes are: the Cathedral of the Assumption, St. James and St. Brigid in Louisville; St. James in Elizabethtown, Ky.; Holy Trinity in Fredericktown, Ky.; and Holy Rosary in Manton, Ky.

The rest of the parishes that choose to take part will participate in one of three waves. The first wave is scheduled to take place from September to November this year. The second wave will be January to March 2018. And, the last wave will begin in April and conclude in June.

The process

The process includes an opportunity for parishes to celebrate what they already do well and time for individuals to study the pastoral letter, for which a study guide is available.

“We want to allow each person to delve further into the pastoral letter with various directed questions,” said Sal Della Bella, director of parish leadership development, a new title for Della Bella, formerly the director of evangelization for the archdiocese.

Key to the process will be small-group discussions, where parishioners will pray, discern, listen and develop ideas together, said Della Bella.

The small groups will be asked to consider, in particular, three priorities identified in the pastoral letter:

 Family life

 Education and formation

 Service and outreach

The small groups will aim to develop two to three strategies the parish might employ to act on these priorities. Representatives of the small groups will report to a core team at the parish level. This core team can be one that already exists at the parish level, such as a parish council, or another strategic planning group, Guthrie said.

When the process is complete, the real action begins, Guthrie said.

“The parish will start implementing the ideas, actions and concepts identified. They’ll begin to live them out,” he said.

Archdiocesan support

Della Bella said during a recent interview that the archdiocese only exists to support the parishes and it will do that throughout the process.

“If we have a better sense of the needs of parishes, that will formulate our work,” he said. “That way we can offer what is most practical and needed by parishes. Each individual parish has specific needs.”

The discernment process, he said, “is a wonderful opportunity to pause prayerfully and ask important questions, such as ‘How is God calling us to grow?’ This is only done with time, prayer and reflection,” Della Bella said.

The parish as a family

Archbishop Kurtz noted that Pope Francis has called the parish “the family of families.” In his interview with The Record, the archbishop said any good family is always growing, nothing remains static.

“The same is true for the family we call the parish. The key is to be able to uncover what is the next step. Christ is calling us to be vibrant parishes. What are those next steps individually and together?” he asked.

He noted the process is not one aimed at restructuring, but rather a process of growth.

“The call is really to determine how we can continue to grow as a family; to invite others who have become distant to the church to come back; to invite all of us to be renewed in our hearts. This is a spiritual program, not a reorganization program.”

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