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Parish Encounter a Success!
Laity from 41 Parishes Pledge to Take on More Responsibility During Coming Changes. Follow up Set for September.

On May 14, 2005, VOTF NY offered Parish Encounter to the parishes of New York. It was a symposium designed to prepare laity to take increased responsibility for easing the pain and focusing on the spiritual aspect of the still undisclosed parish closings and mergers in the archdiocese. By any measure, it was a great success!

A total of 121 Laity from 41 parishes listened to speakers, got to know other parish leaders in their vicariate, made recommendations to the archdiocese for a better process, and pledged to help faith communities in their areas.

The program, in St. Ignatius Loyola’s Wallace Hall, focused on the Laity and Clergy working together to ensure that faith communities are respected and the transition is as smooth as possible. The participants included 8 priests. Participants will begin to initiate meetings in the vicariates to take place over the summer. A follow up conference mobilizing the participants along with those from additional parishes, will be held in September when the archdiocese announces its “realignment.”

At Parish Encounter, experts discussed: the spirituality of a parish; the future of the parish and the role the laity must play; an example of lay leadership education that is happening in one vicariate; and the best practices on church closings and reorganizations covered in a nationwide study. A panel discussion of parishioners in the Archdiocese who have personally experienced closings or mergers – some experiences were very bad and some were very positive – was included. The difference in the two experiences can be summed up as sensitivity, communication, and mutual respect. There was also some training on how to communicate with your pastor.

A highlight was the group discussions by vicariate or areas. Participants formulated recommendations for the Archdiocese on what they felt needed to be done prior to the announcement of the closings and what needed to be done after the announcement is made in the fall. The recommendations will be presented to Bishop Dennis Sullivan who is in charge of the realignment.

The recommendations urged the establishment of open dialogue, support of Faith Communities, and explanations of all decisions to the Laity. None of which, according to the participants, are part of the current process. The recommendations:

  1. Meet and Listen: Invite all members of the Laity and Clergy to meet to discuss the approaching realignment. Urge every Pastor to organize special meetings of parishioners devoted to listening and sharing concerns about the parish realignment.
  2. Engage in Dialogue: Conduct an open dialogue throughout the Archdiocese on the realignment, by organizing frequent and well-publicized meetings of the Laity and Clergy in which any member of the Laity can participate.
  3. Provide Direct, Tangible Support: Help Faith Communities affected by closings or mergers to maintain their integrity as they search for new homes. Provide counseling and monetary resources to smooth the transitions. Arrange special Liturgies to strengthen faith communities, mark the loss of parishes and preserve sacred treasures.
  4. Inform: Explain clearly the criteria used for deciding why a particular parish has to close or why certain parishes must merge. Provide for appeals in instances where parishioners strongly disagree. Tell parishioners what will happen to the resources of affected parishes, including property and financial assets.
  5. Plan: Begin to organize a synod of Clergy and laity on the mission of the Church in the New York Archdiocese.

The attendees completed “commitment cards” in which they agreed to request a meeting with their pastor to discuss what collective action they can take. This site will have updates over the summer. There is a great deal more work that needs to be done as we prepare for the follow up conference in September, Parish Encounter II, and as the laity in the local vicariates initiate their meetings with their pastors.

It’s your church, and it’s wounded. Help to heal it now!

[ Click here to be contacted for Parish Encounter II ]




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