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Bishop outlines 'Called to be Church'

Today, we outline the framework for the next round of pastoral planning throughout our Diocese, titled "Called to be Church." I know people come to this process with many feelings:

* anxiety about what might be presented and what this may mean for you personally and for your parish;

* anger and frustration that we have been here before, so why can't the bishop and his staff just leave us alone, instead of constantly creating stress or "agita";

* skepticism and cynicism about having to embark on another process where "our input really doesn't matter, since Albany already knows what they're going to do, so why don't they just spare us the time, effort and energy of engaging in an exercise of futility";

* the mirror-image: "Why doesn't Albany have a plan? It's obvious what needs to be done. The Bishop and his staff must just lead, make the decisions and announce them, and then everyone can move on. Spare us the grief of going through a process when the solution, painful as it may be, is already patently clear";

* hurt and loss about a Church that seems to be adrift or that is in a process of death and dying.

I understand and empathize with those feelings because change is unsettling in any circumstance, but even more so when change affects our faith and our spiritual home: the parish.

Opportune time

While change is an inevitable part of life, it need not be traumatic. It can be an opportunity for growth, renewal and revitalization.

I believe we have before us precisely such an opportunity: to dream a new Church into being...to evangelize and reevangelize...to recommit ourselves to realize the kingdom of God more fully...and to fulfill more constructively our diocesan mission: "We are God's priestly people sharing a responsibility to witness God's unconditional love and to bring Christ's healing presence to our world."

The psychologist, Dr. Patricia Kelly, has suggested that perhaps the best way to understand change -- real change -- is to recognize change as "conversion," as an opportunity to see and relate to life's experience in a new way.

Seat belts

Think of something as simple as seat belts. Most of us remember when people resisted seat belts as an invasion of privacy, an affront to personal choice and so on.

Through multi-model education, however, a gradual but fundamental shift emerged. While some folks may remain cavalier and leave the belts dangling open, most of us buckle up.

The resistance of "you can't tell me what to do" has been transformed to a concern and commitment for personal safety, and for the benefit of the family and the wider community.


That example demonstrates that transformation occurs when the notion of relating to an experience or person in a new way touches the heart.

In our own Diocese, for example, when the idea of placing a parish life director in a parish was suggested more than 20 years ago, most people thought that this model meant that the parish was dying and that the parish life director was simply the instrument of palliative care.

Today, however, we recognize the significant contribution of parish life directors in sustaining vibrant parish communities throughout our Diocese through a staffing model that speaks to our present and future realities and needs.

Positive change

Change typically evokes anxiety or resistance, and it is not uncommon for individuals and groups to cling to the status quo, even when it is objectively clear that such adherence to the past will not yield a positive outcome.

We cling, that is, until there is an affective component -- until we begin to envision a future consistent with our deepest desires, values and hopes.

Consider for a moment the complex transformation of becoming parents for the first time. Not only do a new mother and father have to change their relationship to themselves, to each other, and to their past and future, but also to ordinary things like sleep, space and how money is spent.

As painful -- even wrenching -- as these alterations may be, they are fueled by love for their child and a vision of a future in which the child emerges as an adult.

New definition

Within the Church, some people continue to cling to a notion of "parish" that is based on the geographic boundaries or the ethnic realities of more than 100 years ago, when their parish was established to meet the needs of that time, rather than on our current understanding that a parish is the instrument to fulfill the mission of Jesus.

That mission takes primacy over geography and ethnicity, and our call to "be Church" in a given area necessitates that we expand the notion of a parish if we are to fulfill that call.

No matter how upsetting this may be for some, our love of Jesus, and our call to witness to His mission and ministry require this transformation.

Removing fear

As we move forward together, we must view pastoral planning and change through a positive lens that is life-giving and evokes a deeper relationship to what is sound, good and holy -- through a lens that is freeing.

To view planning and change through a negative lens that is filled with fear, resistance and blame is unhealthy and stifling. Indeed, fear is the enemy of change and planning. Fear narrows our vision and blinds us to a larger view of reality; it causes us to grasp and cling to the past and to a dream that simply cannot come true.

Fear has the power to paralyze our thoughts and actions. Decisions that are fear-based tend to be reactive and premised on survival, rather than on mission and conversion.

Letting go

Growth is always accompanied by tension, and a certain degree of confusion and disruption. To embark upon a process of real change, therefore, is to accept an uncertain future. It demands relinquishing a degree of control.

It is however, in these periods of transition that new insights and levels of awareness are possible that would not otherwise be available.

It is a time to ask the essential questions, to revisit the mission, and to make a deeper and more mature commitment to our faith.

Passover experience

Each generation of the Church must go through its own Passover from death to life in order to prepare the Church for the next generation.

We face wonderful opportunities and challenging problems. An honest and full experience of both will allow us to be open to the creative power of the Spirit. God has a difficult time operating in illusion and delusion, but He revels in reality.

That is what we hope to do in our next stage of pastoral planning, "Called to be Church," namely, to focus on our reality and how to address that reality with hope, courage, vision, energy and enthusiasm, as well as in a spirit of trust, genuine collaboration and prayerful discernment.

Our reality is that we are the people of God, who, by Baptism, have been called to be Church, to witness to the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst and to live that radical call to discipleship that the Gospel demands.

Church and change

We must now ask this question: "What do we need to do today in order to create the condition for the possibility of belief and witness, both for ourselves and for those who will come after us?"

Although our reality as a people of God and our mission as a Church remain constant over time, the manner in which we live that reality is dynamic and ever-changing.

In other words, our human journey toward the kingdom of God, which was begun more than 2,000 years ago, has been marked by many twists and turns along the way.

The Church the Apostles knew in terms of organization, roles, ministries and structures was not the Church of fourth-century Rome...of the Dark Ages...of the Middle Age monastic movements...of the Reformation and post-Reformation period...of the colonial Church in North and South America...of the French Revolution and its aftermath...of the immigrant Church in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries...or of those who first felt the winds of change and renewal emanating from that watershed event of 20th-century Catholicism: the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.

The cultural, social, economic and ecclesial realities in previous periods of history were different, but the essence of what the Church is and its mission remain the same. Our challenge today as leaders in the Church is to reassure ourselves and our people that it's okay to let go of the past and continue the journey with the Spirit, who is within us and the entire Church.


We are ever confident that Jesus continues to be at our side as the way, the truth and the light along our path.

What are some of the challenges we experience that are different from our diocesan ancestors in the faith? We are confronted with the cultural realities of rampant secularism, individualism, consumerism and moral relativism...a loss of trust in institutional structures in general, aggravated in the Church by the recent scandal of clergy sexual abuse...the loss of the family unit as a prime transmitter of the Faith...shifting demographics from cities and rural areas to the suburbs...declining Mass attendance, especially on the part of those born post-1950...and the dramatic decline of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, just to mention a few.

It must be remembered, however, that we face these challenges with resources that would have been unimaginable to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents in terms of the educational background, and the social status and the economic level of our membership. Our challenge is to steward these resources effectively, so that the mission of Jesus can grow to the fullest.


Moreover, while over the past few decades there has been an increasing shortage of ordained priests and vowed religious, there has also been the restoration of the permanent diaconate and an explosion of lay ministry, both in terms of professional Church ministers and volunteer servants.

Indeed, our Diocese is blessed with more than 100 deacons, 20 parish life directors, 300 catechetical leaders and youth ministers, and thousands of other leaders and ministers in our parishes, Catholic Charities agencies, Catholic schools, diocesan departments and other ministries.

We should all take great pride in the fact that, in our Diocese, new models of collaborative ministry have taken root in the rich soil and spirit of Vatican II. We must continue to deepen and expand those trends into the future.

More than 800 people have completed the Formation for Ministry Program; 120 have earned theology degrees at St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Albany; 300 have taken at least one course; and 150 have been enrolled in the Certificate for Designated Ministry program.

Further and most important of all, the Spirit promised by Jesus and unleashed by the Father on the first Pentecost continues to abide with us and within us as a sure and steady source of guidance, inspiration and strength.

Hope and optimism

We must continue to move forward, not with fear and timidity, not with apprehension and cowardice, not with apathy, complacency and indifference, but with hope and optimism.

Hope and optimism come from knowing that we are God's people; that God will never abandon us; and that, through the power of God's Spirit, we can confront the challenges before us, overwhelming as they may seem, and find creative and constructive solutions that will enable us to continue the mission of Jesus in our day and to pass on the precious heritage of our Catholic Christian tradition to the next generation.

All together

"Called to be Church" is the vehicle we have chosen to do this. By its nature, pastoral planning demands a collaborative approach, that is, participation and cooperation by all the members of the Church: priests, deacons, religious and laity.

It demands letting go of personal agendas; being open to new possibilities; and, when there are setbacks, having the personal faith, hope and courage to continue the dialogue and process, always recognizing that the mission of the Church -- the mission of evangelization and building up the kingdom -- is not just the responsibility of the bishop, not just the responsibility of the planning office, not just the responsibility of pastors and parish life directors, but a joint responsibility that belongs to all of us.

Rather than looking at pastoral planning only through the negative lens of realignments, reconfigurations, closings and consolidations, we must view the process as an opportunity for imagining and creating our future.

Church's mission

In this regard, our pastoral planning process must be focused not on structures, not on buildings, not on personnel statistics, but on mission. The mission must determine our structures and configurations, not vice versa.

Therefore, before we get down to the nitty-gritty of the planning process itself, I am convinced we need to have a dialogue among ourselves about mission.

In his 1975 apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Nuntiandi," Pope Paul VI stated, "The Church exists in order to evangelize; evangelization is the essential mission of the Church."

Commenting on that, Dr. Adrian Hastings, the well known British theologian, noted, "It is somewhat misleading to say that the Church has a mission as if the existence of the Church comes first. In truth, it is because of the mission that there is a Church; the Church is a servant and expression of this mission. The mission consequently dictates the nature of the Church; and, insofar as the Church fails to live up to the demands of its mission, it is effectively failing to be Church."

Key questions

If the mission of Jesus -- rooted in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, and reflected in service to others -- is at the heart of our Catholic Christian community, how do we assess and analyze the specific challenges for fulfilling that mission in this time and in this place?

That, I believe, requires a serious and thoughtful conversation on our part as leaders in the Church and, then, the opportunity to draw the wider diocesan community into that discussion.

Let me pose a series of questions which should be part of that discussion:

1. What of our present parish and diocesan life must absolutely be maintained and sustained in any pastoral planning process?

2. How do we envision Church ministry evolving, and who will be our ministers? How do we foster vocations to all Church ministries, including the priesthood, diaconate, religious life and lay ecclesial ministry? Do we accept the present decline of ordained and vowed ministers as a given? If not, what can we do to reverse the trend? Also, how can we best draw upon the continued, generous availability of our retired priests?

3. Are we making the best use of our deacons and lay ecclesial ministers? How can they be better supported and resourced for fulfilling their roles, responsibilities and ministries?

4. I have stated my conviction that the parish will continue to be the hub and center of the Church's life. I have noted, however, that this does not mean that all parishes must function the same way or that the style of parish life in the future must be predicated on the past. Are there other models than the parish as we have known it which should be considered in fulfilling our mission in the 21st century? How should "parish" or "local Catholic community" be defined today?

5. I have stated that, as a Eucharistic community, the norm should be a full Eucharist in every parish each weekend. Do you agree with that assessment? If so, how can we ensure quality celebrations of the Eucharist given our declining number of priests? If not, what model would you propose?

6. We have had 30 years of experience in pastoral planning in the Church at Albany. Do we think the basic strategy of planning we have employed is going in the right direction? These strategies have included clustering of parishes; the scheduling and coordination of Mass times (for example, on a city or deanery basis); joint Penance and Anointing services; shared Confirmation, youth ministry and adult faith formation programs; and mergers, consolidations or closures made on the basis of declining parish membership or priestly availability.

Are there other models where, for example, planning addresses the root causes of these changes within our Church and society and, thus, becomes more a real renewal for evangelization rather than managed decline? Should we blend both models?

7. What can we learn from other dioceses in the United States or elsewhere about planning and staffing models? Also, what can we learn from the experiences of our religious communities regarding processes for renewal, or from our brothers and sisters in the ecumenical and interfaith community? What can we learn from the valuable experiences of those in this Diocese who have had the courage to explore, develop and implement new staffing models, pastoral reconfigurations and planning models to meet the ever-changing needs of our people?

8. How do we ensure that pastoral planning not only addresses the reality of parish life in our Diocese but also is coordinated with the ministries of our Catholic schools and Catholic charities agencies, as well as the needs of those in our hospitals, nursing homes, college campuses, county jails and state prisons?

For example, how do we continue to expand our recent efforts of using the gifts of our deacons to assist in jail and prison ministry as well as in other service and liturgical roles? How do we continue to respond to emergencies and human tragedies, such as we did so magnificently with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina? How do we encourage the continued exploration of new relationships and models between campus ministry and the local Catholic community, or between Catholic schools, Catholic charities, Catholic health care and our parishes? What more might we be doing with other faith communities in sharing space or doing joint programming?

9. How can we address the theological and psychological concerns of our priests about the model that has been evolving as we have spread fewer numbers of priests over a wider area, and their fears of being reduced to sacramental dispensers and administrators?

Some priests are worried about how much they may be expected to do in the new model. Many priests feel they are losing their identity and rootedness in a particular parish community, having their pastoral role now assumed by parish life directors or parish staff, and, hence, becoming more of an anonymous or neutral functionary, rather than a real pastor.

As the role of priest continues to change, how can he find meaning in his life and ministry, and what must we do to increase awareness of our Catholic people regarding the issues being faced by our priests?

10. At times in the past, the pastoral planning process has resulted in anger, polarization and alienation. How can the process become more an opportunity for an appreciative recognition of what has been, and for healing and reconciliation as we continue to move into the future?


Those ten questions need to be discussed prior to launching the next phase of pastoral planning. I'm sure you have your own questions as well.

I am asking that these conversations take place over the next six months. We will be providing facilitators and materials for such discussion at the deanery or regional levels.

[Diocesan staff] will continue working on developing a fluid and incremental process for planning that will take into account the input received over these six months...analyzing the challenging realities we face...accumulating and reviewing demographic data...assessing the condition of all our parish properties...getting feedback on the proposed planning groups...preparing facilitators to resource the planning groups...and discerning how best to engage you, your parishioners and those involved in our special ministries in a process that, hopefully, will lead to greater participation and to a greater sense of ownership for the final product.

First, pray

I am convinced that this hopeful goal will be possible only if our pastoral planning process, "Called to be Church," is rooted in prayer, prayer that is not just the bookends at the deanery or regional meetings, but prayer that precedes and permeates the entire process.

Prior to even starting the planning process, we should commit ourselves to the following practices:

* that all of us involved in the process agree to pray each day for wisdom and for the courage to remain focused on the mission, undeterred by personalities and personal interest;

* that we invite prayerful support from our parish communities by including the work of pastoral planning in the Prayer of the Faithful at every Eucharist;

* that we establish prayer teams that agree to pray for the participants in the process, especially before and during each meeting;

* that, for the fall dialogues and next year's planning group meetings, we devote the first 20 minutes or so of each session to a theological reflection (from the Scriptures or some pertinent Church document or spiritual book) to open our hearts to the promptings of the Spirit and to a willingness to move where God is leading us; and

* when a decision is called for, that we allow some time for quiet prayer or reflection before the group is polled.

Grounding the entire process in prayer will help to keep us focused on the mission, and enable us to address complex problems with civility, tolerance and charity.

Ancestors in faith

As we move into this next phase of pastoral planning, let us remember that ours is not the first generation to be confronted with challenges or to be faced with a new and uncertain future:

* Two hundred years before there was a Diocese of Albany, St. Isaac Jogues and his companions walked our mountains and valleys, and navigated our rivers, lakes and streams to evangelize our Native Americans, and suffered martyrdom for their efforts...

* John McCloskey, our first bishop, rode on horseback from the Pennsylvania border to Canada, from the Vermont/Massachusetts border to the Great Lakes at a time when the original Diocese of Albany consisted of what is now our own 14 counties plus the present-day dioceses of Syracuse and Ogdensburg...

* Father Peter Havermans founded St. Peter's and St. Mary's parishes, St. Mary's Hospital, LaSalle Institute, and two orphanages in Troy at a time when the Church consisted primarily of poor Irish and German immigrants, who had little more than the shirts on their back...

* Father Clarence Walworth, Father Isaac Hecker and a layman, Orestes Brownson, launched a movement of evangelization and reconciliation at the height of Nativism, No-Nothingism and vicious anti-Catholicism...

* the daughters of Mother Catherine McCauley, the Religious Sisters of Mercy, inaugurated the healing ministry of St. Peter's Hospital in Albany on a wing and a prayer...

* Lucy Eaton Stanton of Glens Falls founded the Dominican Sisters of Catherine de Ricci to serve the unmet spiritual needs of women and the catechetical needs of the young...

* in 1920, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet began The College of Saint Rose in a home on Madison Avenue in Albany and a vision...

* in 1937, the Franciscans did the same for Siena College with a farmhouse in Loudonville and seven friars...

* countless parishes and schools were first located in rented space, and were built on the sweat equity of priests and religious, and the nickel-and-dime sacrifices of impoverished parishioners...

* our forebears weathered the upheaval and pain of the lay trustee movement, the Great Depression, the two world wars of the 20th century, and the turmoil of the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and the radical shift in ecclesiology and theology generated by the Second Vatican Council.

Next steps

Now, we face the challenge of taking the next step on our diocesan journey of faith and service. May we do so while open to change, focused on the mission, grounded in prayer, inspired by our ancestor's ability to adapt to the realities of their day and confident that, with God's abundant grace, we will prevail.

I ask you to accompany me on this continuing journey of advancing the Kingdom of God with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone. I cannot walk it alone. You cannot walk it alone. We must all walk it together. This is what "Called to be Church" is designed to do.

I cannot imagine a group with whom I would rather make this journey than the priests, deacons, religious and laity of our Diocese. For your willingness to move forward in faith and love, I thank you profusely and ask God's choicest blessings upon you.

(Bishop Hubbard delivered these remarks on June 12 at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Clifton Park. The occasion was a meeting attended by hundreds of diocesan and parish leaders to begin a diocesan-wide planning process that will address the challenges of the future.)



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