Facing a declining number of priests and an increasing number of Catholics, beginning in 2005 the diocese undertook a strategic planning initiative titled “Guided by the Spirit”This effort involved nearly a thousand people from throughout the diocese, including priests, parish staffs, and faithful from each parish.
Guided by diocesan staff and contracted experts, the 134 diocesan parishes were organized into 41 regional “clusters” which met to discuss their own specific regional situations and analyze their particular gifts, challenges, and opportunities. Each cluster team then suggested ways the Church in that region might better utilize its human and temporal goods in pursuit of her mission, including suggestions about restructuring parishes and their administration. These suggestions were gathered by a diocesan commission (made up of priests and laity from around the diocese) and reviewed in light of the needs of the entire diocese. Recommendations were then made to the Bishop, who, after further consultation and dialog with all those involved, issued directives to each cluster and specifically to each parish, guiding their future pastoral activities, especially regarding their structure and organization. Ultimately, 27 sets of parishes (involving a total of 70 parishes) were directed to merge in the coming years.
The process of implementing the Bishop’s directives continues today via the second phase of the diocesan strategic planning process, titled, “Trusting in the Spirit.” This work includes merging parishes and undertaking other collaborative efforts which arose from the cluster planning discussions. Fifteen parish mergers (involving 36 parishes) have already been completed, others are underway, and others are awaiting “trigger events” such as the retirement of a pastor.
It is hoped that the process undertaken over these past seven years has not only succeeded in its immediate goals, but has also planted in the minds of our priests, parish staffs, and faithful an understanding of the importance of strategic planning and an eagerness to engage in it. We hope and pray that each parish community is continually open to such an effort.