Evangelization, unity drive two rural plans

Collaboration – sharing resources – unity.

These are among the key goals of a revised pastoral plan for rural parishes in two archdiocesan deaneries announced to members of affected parishes at Masses Dec. 9 and 10.

The plan, for the rural central and rural southwest deaneries, creates parish groupings, whereas the original proposal, released in July, proposed consolidating several parishes and converting some churches to chapels for limited use or to a mission of another parish.

Under the new plan, approved by Archbishop George J. Lucas, the parishes retain their current status, with each having at least one weekend Mass for as long as feasible. But they become members of larger groupings, collaborating to further the archdiocese’s pastoral vision of "One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy."

"We received important feedback on the initial proposals," the archbishop said, "and I am grateful to all who have participated in the planning process in the two deaneries."

"Pastors and parishioners can move ahead now to plan for the realization of our pastoral vision, respectful of our history and our projected resources," he said.

In the next several months, the Pastoral Planning Office will work with other archdiocesan offices to help the parish groupings begin to share resources and develop a culture of evangelization, said Deacon Stephen Luna, director of pastoral planning.

"Everything we’re doing is setting up a structure to help people encounter Jesus and form disciples," he said.

Resource sharing could include broadening the practice of priests serving several parishes and sharing ministries, facilities, staff and pastoral councils.

"This is a good move in the right direction," said Father Michael Swanton, pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus and dean of the rural southwest deanery. "It makes us more one church and not just isolated parishes."

The planning process for rural parishes began in September 2016, with discussions and meetings coordinated by the Pastoral Planning Office and Wisconsin-based Meitler consulting group.

After considering feedback from parishioners, deanery planning teams reconvened in October, developed and last month presented new recommendations to Archbishop Lucas.

"The archbishop was very sensitive to how people were feeling and really listened to their concerns," Deacon Luna said.

Parishes now can determine how the groupings will work to fulfill the vision and mission of the church, Deacon Luna said.

The changes will help address the realities of declining rural populations, fewer people participating in the faith and fewer priests available to serve parishes,

said Father Kevin Vogel, pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Elgin and St. Bonaventure Parish in Raeville.

"Through this planning process, the main focus has been to assist parishes in living out what it means to be a Catholic parish," said Father Vogel, who also is president of St. Boniface School and Pope John XXIII Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School, both in Elgin.

Additional goals include discussing school needs in the two deaneries and developing plans for the remaining four rural deaneries, Deacon Luna said.

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