On the Feast of the Holy Family of 2016, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz promulgated a pastoral letter, Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive In Our Midst. In his letter, the Archbishop described his experiences of shepherding and visiting the many parishes of the Archdiocese. “In nearly a decade,” the Archbishop shared, “one of my great joys has been to visit you in your parishes” and “Each time I confirm youth of your parish, dedicate a new ministry or building, install a pastor or celebrate a parish anniversary, I have seen firsthand your goodness, your commitment, and the vibrancy of the parish. Indeed, parish life is at the heart of where and how we grow as the Body of Christ.”
While looking to the future with hope, and in the light of knowing that God has blessed the Archdiocese of Louisville abundantly, the Archbishop has called parishes to discern their own future. This process of discernment is revealed through movements that enable parishes to pray, listen, decide, and develop together a future for their parish. At the end of the process, the parish community together will have prayed, reflected upon the pastoral letter of Archbishop Kurtz (Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive In Our Midst), listened for God’s call, taken the time to celebrate the ways in which God has abundantly blessed the parish, decided how to move forward together, and begun to develop the gifts, charisms, and resources needed to respond to God’s call for the parish both now and in the future.
There is a study guide to go along with the Archbishop’s Pastoral Letter. You can access the Study Guide by clicking the link. Please read the Pastoral Letter and review the study guide prior to attending a listening session.
What is Parish Discernment?
Parish discernment is an opportunity to gather as a parish family and through prayer, reflection, and small group discussions, call upon God to reveal his will for our parish community. While there are similarities to strategic planning processes, what makes discernment unique is that our parish will not begin by asking, “what do we think is best?” but instead by asking, “God, what do you want of us?” While strategic plans are good and important, they are also devised and directed. A discerned plan is received from God, and is an invitation to respond to the one who calls us all, and in this case, through the life of the parish.
Purpose of the Discernment Process
- Enable our parish to discern how it can best grow in holiness and vitality as a faith community.
- Enable our parish to reflect on the Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Kurtz, Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive In Our Midst.
- Enable our parish to plan for the future through a process of prayer, listening, deciding, and developing – with focus on Family Life, Education and Formation, and Service and Outreach.
Objectives of the Discernment Process
- Reflect upon the abundant ways God has blessed our parish and thereby create a renewed sense of excitement.
- Reflect on what our parish is already doing and what more it might do to grow and increase its vitality as the body of Christ.
- Discern through prayer, small group discussions, and listening sessions, specific goals our parish will pursue in response to the Pastoral Letter; and determine the resources needed to accomplish the goals.
Each of the movements outlined above will require a dedicated period of focus and attention and will take place from April – June 2017:
- April: Prayer (Reflection and Celebration)
- May: Listening (Discernment)
- June: Deciding and Developing
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What sort of support will be available for the Parish Discernment Process?
A1. The Archdiocese will provide parishes with the needed materials, training, and resources for the process. Having a capable facilitator is crucial to the success of the discernment process. A team of trained facilitators will be available to support parishes.
Q2. Is this a capital (fundraising) campaign? If I remember correctly, the independent study was related to the Archdiocese raising money.
A2. The process did begin with questions pertaining to how various ministries are to be funded in the future. One of the options considered during the study was a traditional capital campaign. The results of the study indicated that people were more than willing to support the ministries of the Church. However, they stressed that a more fundamental issue needed to be addressed first – the life of the parishes and how they support Family Life, Education and Formation, and Service and Outreach.
Q3: How does a parish implement the Parish Discernment Process if it is already in the midst of a planning process?
A3: Since each planning process is different, each response to this scenario will be different. The key factors for consideration are who is involved in the existing planning process, the topics they are addressing or plan to address, the timeline of the planning process, and how it involves and engages people. Limited or small in scale processes may have less impact or conflict with the Parish Discernment Process than a large one. A significant factor is how many and in what ways parishioners are engaged. Assistance will be provided by the Archdiocese through a trained facilitator to help you think through these matters.
Q4: What if a parish has a significant challenge not directly related to family, education, or service. How do I handle this challenge?
A4: In these instances, it is good to step back and look at the big picture. Our recommendation is to focus on this process and to discern where God is calling the parish in the future. Over the long run, a parish that cares for and engages families, provides lifelong catechesis, and serves the poor will receive both God’s blessing and the financial support of its parishioners.
This is also a moment to mention a key finding that came out of the funding needs study commissioned by the Archdiocese of Louisville in the spring of 2016. In that study, participants indicated a willingness to support the financial needs of the Archdiocese and their parish. At the same time, they indicated they were most passionate about their faith, and enlivening their own spiritual lives and the parish. In short, they indicated a desire for a concrete vision for the future, in which they would support with financial and other resources as necessary.
Q5: What if a parish is very small and this process is beyond what it can do?
A5: This process was designed to be flexible and recognizes that people are busy and often stretched for time and energy. In the case of smaller parishes, the process can be adjusted so it is manageable for the parish. This is something your assigned facilitator can help you navigate.
Q6: I am pastor for multiple parishes. How do I implement this process in this setting?
A6: In general, it would be our recommendation that both parishes participate in the process at the same time. Depending how the parishes interact, it may also be helpful to have part of the process conducted jointly to discern if there are any potential shared ministry opportunities. The process would be a compelling way to bring people together; not in the context of each parish focusing on its own identity, but in asking God, together, what he wants for the parishes, and if there is a deeper and shared relationship in the future between the two communities.
Q7: How will the Parish Discernment Process outcomes be put into practice?
A7: At the conclusion of the discernment process, parishes will have identified 2 or 3 goals for each of the three areas outlined in the Pastoral Letter. A large portion of the goals can be successfully accomplished using internal resources available at the parish. Archdiocesan agencies can provide assistance and resources, where applicable.