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.
While change is an inevitable part of life, it need not be
traumatic. It can be an opportunity for growth, renewal and
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Each generation of the Church must go through its own
Passover from death to life in order to prepare the Church for the next
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
* 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
* 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
* 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
* 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.
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