It's crunch time for "Called to be Church."
After more than a year of meetings and discussions, local
planning groups (LPGs) for every parish in the Albany Diocese will spend
the first half of 2008 creating recommendations for their parishes'
"Status quo is not an option," reads the manual
for this phase of the process, sent by diocesan officials to each LPG.
Time to choose
All parishes, the manual notes, must come up with
recommendations to close, merge or at least link their parishes with
* A merger would mean that two or more parishes become
one, sharing assets and liabilities;
* linked parishes would remain separate entities but might
still share leadership, staff or programs.
One important criterion for whether a parish remains open
is Mass attendance. The formula offered by the diocesan Pastoral Planning
Office is this: If the total number of Catholics attending all weekend
liturgies at a parish is less than its seating capacity, ending the use of
that church must be considered.
Time to change
The need for such changes is due to several factors,
including declines in vocations to religious life and active participation
in the faith, and Catholic population shifts from cities to suburbs. The
manual points out that even suburban parishes are "graying,"
with fewer active young Catholics replacing aging parishioners.
"We've clearly said 2007 was a discussion time,"
noted John Manning, director of the diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning.
He called the past year "an opportunity for local leadership to
engage in a relationship," building rapport and sharing information.
Topics discussed by LPGs during 2007 included
evangelization, prayer and worship, lifelong faith formation, Christian
advocacy and service, and growing leadership.
Time to decide
Now that all parishes have explored how well they're
carrying out everything from liturgy to religious education under their
current staffing patterns, Mr. Manning said, it's time to make
recommendations for change.
Change will be required across the board, he added. Even
parishes that have successfully fulfilled the mission of the Church in the
Diocese so far can improve their use of staff and resources.
Mr. Manning gave the example of five parishes in a given
area that may decide to have one, joint evangelization program, using one
director and staff from all the parishes to cover their entire area.
"The most vital and viable parishes in the Diocese
[still] need to link with each other, to collaborate and cooperate, and
remain good stewards of our resources," he stated.
Time to let go
The director acknowledged that change will be difficult
"emotionally and spiritually. People's instinct might be, 'This is
the church in which I was baptized, where I was married, where I want to
be buried from.'"
But "we can't keep 165 parishes functioning on our
own. We do have to respond to that reality. We're trying to preserve the
Eucharist, and we're coming to a point where [we need to ask:] 'Do we have
Eucharist, or do we have all these worship sites?'"
Mr. Manning said that diocesan officials don't know how
many parishes will be closed or merged when the Called to be Church
"We don't have a plan," he stated, noting that,
"knowing what the challenges are, [parishes] themselves will come up
with the recommendations."
Time to conclude
By June 30, all parishes of the Diocese are required to
have submitted their recommendations to the Diocese.
A Pastoral Planning Review Commission appointed by Bishop
Howard J. Hubbard will then review the plans and either return them for
revision or approve and send them on to the Bishop.
By January 2009, Bishop Hubbard will begin announcing
reconfiguration plans. Mr. Manning noted that some parishes may close or
merge in 2009, while some may continue working on collaborating with
others until, for example, a pastor retires and the final change is made.
Implementing all the plans will probably take place over a
three- to five-year period, he said.
Time to evolve
As uncertain a time as this is for the Albany Diocese, Mr.
Manning pointed to the cities of Cohoes and Schenectady as examples of how
change can be effected:
* In Cohoes, two town meetings have been held to share
with all Catholics the reality that only two priests will be available to
cover the town's five parishes in the future, and parishes there have
already redone their Mass schedules to accommodate that reality;
* in Schenectady, seven "hill parishes" -- St.
Adalbert's, St. Joseph's, St. Luke's, St. Paul the Apostle, Sacred
Heart/St. Columba and Our Lady of Mount Carmel -- have begun cooperative
efforts like joint prayer services and sharing pulpits.
In both cities, "people are beginning to recognize
there is a need for change, and moving forward," said Mr. Manning.
Although Called to be Church may seem like a lengthy
process, Mr. Manning called it "a natural evolution. In any
organization, planning and change never cease, or you become
(All eight Catholic dioceses in New York State are
currently engaged in pastoral planning: Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, New
York City, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre (Long Island) and
Syracuse. In addition to the new Called to be Church manual, financial
data on each parish, assembled by the diocesan Accounting Office, and data
on Catholic schools have been sent to the LPGs for review.)