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Pastoral Planning notes: Change is in the air

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In an effort to keep pace with the changing realities of church life in the United States, the Archdiocese of Boston is implementing a new pastoral plan for parish life. The parishes of St. Joseph and St. Luke in Belmont have been involved in the first phase of the implementation of the plan, called Disciples In Mission. This is an exciting opportunity for local Catholics to be engaged in an effort to strengthen and revitalize their parishes, and to demonstrate that strong faith communities provide a significant contribution to society.

Based on a history of openness to change, to working together, and a willingness to consider new approaches to practicing and handing on our religion that has long been demonstrated by the Greater Belmont parishes, St. Joseph and St. Luke were chosen to lead the way, along with 11 other collaboratives of parishes. The number twelve, appropriate for a Christian context, made sense as a pilot phase from which the Office of Pastoral Planning could learn about best practices and about mistakes to avoid.

One of the important goals of this initiative is to provide the strongest possible staff, called a Pastoral Service Team, to serve the needs of the newly formed collaboratives. The plan calls for increasing acceptance and integration of recognized practices that lead other organizations to strength, sustainability, and growth. An example of an essential element of the process involves the goal that all who are hired to serve on a pastoral service team are trained and qualified. We must recognize the need for professional standards and ongoing education to better serve the needs of our community. This goal is not driven by the need to provide whatever the "customer" wants, as much as to be better able to provide opportunities for connection, spiritual growth, and social support with authenticity, expertise, and skill.

It is vital to the success of Disciples in Mission that our parishes demonstrate that we have learned lessons from the mistakes and failures of the past. Our church, like other excellent faith communities, must strive to be a transparent and trustworthy organization where anyone who is searching for a spiritual home can come and see who we are and what we are about, and feel welcomed and supported in the quest for meaning and purpose. To do this, priests, deacons, religious, and lay women and men together must embrace principles of wise stewardship and use the limited resources that come directly from the community with the same high standard of virtue with which they have been offered.

Parishes across the archdiocese have risen to the challenge that has come from the need to reassess the Church's ability to deliver on the promises we have made as a faith community to be of service to the human community. Nearly six months into this great experiment in Belmont, there is a renewed sense of hope and promise among our people. As we seek to become more effective in living out our own faith, and sharing its fruits with others, we trust that our efforts will not only make our parishes stronger, but will make Belmont, and the world, a better place to live.

Father Mahoney is pastor of St. Luke and St. Joseph parishes in Belmont. The parishes are taking part in Phase One of Disciples in Mission.

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