By Georgiana Francisco | Correspondent
Faith in Our Future is about getting parishes to think differently, Msgr. Leonard F. Troiano, episcopal vicar for planning, recently told members of some 20 parish core teams who had gathered to be trained as Cohorts.
“Parishes can no longer think for and of themselves,” Msgr. Troiano explained March 16 at the gathering held in St. Isaac Jogues Community Center, Marlton. “They must now consider the needs of their neighboring parishes, learn how to work together, and provide combined assistance. They can no longer think of themselves as one parish, but as a Diocese.”
He emphasized, “Even if a parish thinks it is okay the way it is now, it must consider ways in which to assist neighboring parishes.”
Coming together as Cohorts, (groups of three to six parishes from the same area) was a key aspect of the Faith in Our Future initiative, which is now on Step 2 of an eight-step process. Pursuing five pastoral goals set by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., the 18-month-long endeavor is aimed at strengthening the parishes and ministries across the four-county Diocese of Trenton. The Marlton sessions was one of five held over a two-day period March 15 and 16.
Father Phillip C. Pfleger, pastor of two parishes -- St. Isaac Jogues and St. John Neumann in Mount Laurel, echoed Msgr. Troiano’s remarks. Father Pfleger, who is also episcopal vicar for Burlington County, said, “Parishes in close proximity can no longer be isolated. Most important now is the need to re-evaluate the need for help and get parishioners to recognize the areas in which they can collaborate and unify.”
He expressed optimism after hearing some of the comments shared at the training. Father Pfleger said, “It’s good to feel the positive energy here tonight. Hopefully, that is an indication that we will be moving in that direction in a very positive way.”
During the evening’s break-out sessions, Cohort members discussed results of the recent parishioner survey and the various methods employed in each parish to secure responses as part of their Self-Study phase. Some team members expressed disappointed in the low number of respondents compared to number of parishioners, while others were happy not only with the number of respondents, but also with the positive comments. They related what parishioners found to be the most positive aspects of their parish and what areas needed a fresh approach.
Some of the highest marks were given to the effectiveness of the weekly bulletin in keeping the community informed, and the sacramental quality of liturgies, while others indicated they needed to be better at communicating with members of their church. One cohort member, for example, said that while his parish had truly dedicated ministries, many parishioners didn’t know much about them.
Communication, in fact, was one of the topics most discussed during the evening: how parishes can better communicate the essence of and rationale for the Faith in Our Future initiative; how to help parishioners better understand the changes the future will bring; and how parishes must be prepared to adapt to those changes by working in tandem, rather than remaining independent.
St. John Neumann parishioner Peter Moesky said he was glad to see other parish teams share his enthusiasm for the potential that Faith in our Future will bring to parishes in the Diocese. He said, “Before we met tonight, there was some confusion about how exactly meeting as Cohorts would work. But now that we understand what is expected and how we’ll proceed, there is an enormous amount of enthusiasm for what needs to be done in the time we have to meet our goals.”
Father Dan Swift, pastor of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, summed it up this way: “The history of the Church has proven, for 2000 years, that as the waves of challenges crashed against her shores, and after the tides subsided and the survivors got up and looked around, there was always the Church.”
He reflected, “Currently, the Church is faced with fewer vocations and fewer resources, as fewer are active and financially support the Church to the levels their ancestors did. It makes sense to put a plan in place to minister differently, because the way we minister now, working independently rather than collaboratively, is no longer sustainable.”
The Cohorts will have met six times between March and May before deciding which suggestions for reorganization and collaboration they will issue for consideration by the Diocesan Planning Commission.
For more information on this process, go to dioceseoftrenton.org/faithinourfuture