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Catholics rate first year of planning
Staff Writer

One year after they began meeting, "Called to be Church" parish planners say that things are working out as projected: Committees are talking, ideas are flying, and core team members across the Albany Diocese are laying the foundation for recommendations they will make next June.

"Called to be Church," a process that envisions the future of the Church in the Diocese, began with Bishop Howard J. Hubbard's inaugural talk in June 2006.

Preliminary meetings were held last fall, and formal discussions on common themes started last January in 39 local planning groups located throughout the 14 counties of the Diocese. Those inter-parish discussions will continue through next spring.

In June 2008, recommendations for changes will be forwarded to the Bishop for his consideration. He will announce final proposals a year from now, and they will go into effect in January 2009.

Community effort

Angie Van Bramer, a core team member from St. Mary's Church in Oneonta, said that the first year of dialogue has brought her planning group closer together and made it easier to discuss thorny topics.

"We've become like a little community," she explained. "There's a lot of input from the people from all three parishes in coming up with ideas and talking about what we already have, how we can expand and how we can bring more people together.

"We're doing very good. There's a lot of work to be done. We [still] have to put it all together.

"We're good together. For me, it's amazing that some of the same ideas crop up [in all three parishes] about what we are doing and what we should be doing in the future. I hope we can come up with something that the people will accept, and go forward."

First steps

Ms. Van Bramer is already working on the ways that "Called to be Church" will affect her parish's Young at Heart senior organization, for which she is president.

She will invite other parishes to the next program, which is meant to tell seniors about HEAP, Medicare Part D and other programs that benefit them.

The Church has "got to change, and that's going to be our challenge," she explained.

Progress report

Some planning groups have formed allied committees to focus on the ideas put forward by the planning group.

One of the planning groups is in Cohoes, where the faith formation director at Holy Trinity parish, Karen Beattie, is working with other officials, catechists and interested parishioners to see "how we could join together."

The committee is starting with ideas surrounding sacramental preparation and how the parishes "can get commonality in how we do things," she explained.

In their first meeting, they "went around the room and talked about what each parish offers and where we need to pick up the pace a little," she noted. "Some are doing what they are supposed to, and some are on the road to getting where they are supposed to be. We have more in common than we have different."

'It'll work'

The city of Cohoes is already dealing with the priest shortage, Ms. Beattie said.

Due to retirements and departures, two priests, Rev. Arthur Becker and Rev. Peter Tkocz, share sacramental duties for the entire city.

"There's always Mass in the city, but it rotates from church to church," she noted. "It's working, and we're doing okay. I think when the transition happens, it'll be hard, but it'll work."

Much to do

Frank Pugliano, a member of the core team at St. Pius X parish in Loudonville, noted that the Colonie planning cluster has established two separate committees: an oversight committee and a group exploring teen faith formation.

The latter group, headed by St. Clare's sacramental minister, Rev. Thomas Konopka, is focusing on finding out what attracts -- and what repels -- young Catholics from coming to church.

"They're planning on having focus groups of teenagers who regularly attend Mass and participate in parish activities, and are trying to identify teenagers who don't attend church regularly themselves to find out why not," explained Mr. Pugliano.


The cluster has a transcriber working at every planning meeting, said Mr. Pugliano, so the group has full records of what participants have said and the context in which they spoke. That record is proving handy for the cluster's oversight committee, which is distilling ideas for further discussion.

The oversight committee is pulling out ideas that were discussed and determines whether they can be worked on now or should be held for later, he said.

"We may decide that some things can't be implemented at this time," he said. "Maybe we need some more information" on other items.

Talking together

Meeting to meeting, Mr. Pugliano noted, "we get the sense that we have a lot in common: the same issues, the same concerns. In many cases, we've pretty much responded to them in the same way.

"This oversight committee proves that the six parishes can work together, come together, talk and try to resolve issues.

"We're going to talk about 'where do we go from here?' Let's get our prayer and worship people talking. Let's get our adult faith formation people talking. Let's get our business managers together."

(For more information about "Called to be Church," visit www.rcda.org and www.evangelist.org.)



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