By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Earlier this year, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz wrote a pastoral letter titled “Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive in Our Midst” and invited parishes to begin a period of discernment.
All 110 parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville have also been invited to take part in a formal process of discernment that is currently underway. Through study, prayer and small group discussions, participating parishes are considering, “How is God asking us to grow?”
Six parishes that volunteered to pilot the process recently completed it. They are: the Cathedral of the Assumption, St. Brigid and St. James churches in Louisville; St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky.; Holy Trinity Church in Fredericktown, Ky.; and Holy Rosary Church in Manton, Ky.
About 85 percent of parishes are planning to take part in the process in one of three upcoming “waves.” The first began
last month with 13 parishes and is expected to be finished later this year.
Father Gary Padgett, pastor of the clustered parishes of St. Brigid and St. James said the pilot process was “worthwhile” and believes it will help “frame the future of where we are going.”
“It is a commitment of time but it is absolutely worth it,” he said. “Essentially, we are taking the temperature of the community.”
The discernment process at the two Highlands parishes lasted several months. Though they are clustered, the parishes conducted their own separate discernment processes.
Core teams — consisting of about half a dozen parishioners each — organized several listening sessions to engage as many parishioners as possible.
At the listening sessions, parishioners were asked to reflect on the archbishop’s pastoral letter, in particular three priorities identified in the letter:
– Family life
– Education and formation
– Service and outreach
Participants were asked to develop two to three strategies the parish might adopt in response to these priorities.
Father Padgett said getting parishioners to read the pastoral letter and attend the sessions posed some challenges, but noted that the listening sessions produced important insights that were valuable to both parishes.
“One thing that came from our discussion around service and outreach is that we were much more active than we gave ourselves credit for,” he said. The two parishes could benefit from a more concerted effort to better publicize activities, though, he said.
Ken Rosenbaum, chair of St. Brigid’s core team, said he found the discernment process “inspirational and thought-provoking.”
Rosenbaum said his parish “has already begun to initiate new ways to reach out to our community” and “to involve more parishioners in our ministries.”
“We are reaching out to parishioners in various ways to inform them of all that we presently do and asking them to join us in one or more of our ongoing ministries and welcoming their ideas for innovation,” Rosenbaum said.
Bob Van Bruggen, chair of St. James’ core team, said the listening sessions highlighted “many strengths and many weaknesses in our parish ministry.”
Van Bruggen noted one of the parish’s strengths — the GROW team, which has actively been engaged in a “growth mission” the last few years. Also, the parish’s stewardship committee is looking for ways to engage new parishioners and people from the Highlands neighborhood. The group established a summer beer garden series held in the lawn behind the rectory.
“We discovered that as a growing congregation we need to have a greater emphasis on family life so that we can become a church family reaching beyond the gathering for the celebration of Mass,” he said.
St. James plans to increase education in three areas: adult education, youth education and family education, he added.
Father Martin Linebach, pastor of St. James in Elizabethtown, described his parish’s discernment period as a “prayerful process.”
“If you look at the word discernment, it has a spiritual root to it. Any time you are willing to settle down and let the Holy Spirit guide and inspire, it is well worth the time,” he said.
The Hardin County parish also conducted listening sessions, about 20 in all. The sessions, which lasted about two hours each, had high rates of participation from parishioners, particularly from young people, said Lou Edmonson, chair of the parish’s pastoral council.
“The youth just responded beautifully. Our high school and college students really dug in. As a result of listening to them and their participation, we’ve decided to have youth representatives on the parish council,” Edmonson said. “They want to be a part of a strong church family. It’s remarkable to see that in action.”
Edmonson noted that a common thread from many discussions at the listening sessions was a question: “How do we create a legacy for our children that embodies a culture of family, relationships and outreach?”
In the area of family life, parishioners suggested St. James consider observing a “Year of the Family,” Father Linebach said.
“We are really going to look at prayer and helping people learn how to pray. People can be intimidated by that. We are going to look at prayer, as it relates to the family,” he said.
Other strategies that came from the listening sessions included:
– Holding a picnic to reach inactive parishioners;
– Offering family and youth-based retreats;
– Hiring a full-time youth minister;
– Strengthening existing ministries and creating new ministries in the parish that reach out and serve those in need.
Findings and strategies from St. James’ listening sessions, and those of the two Highlands parishes, will be shared with parishioners at Masses this weekend.
So far, more than 85 percent of parishes in the archdiocese have committed to the discernment process, which is optional.
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. The last wave will begin in April and conclude in June.
Parishes that are not currently signed up but wish to do so can still opt in for waves two or three.