This MONTHLY UPDATE is a report from the 2016 Diocese of Trenton on Faith in Our Future, the pastoral planning process to strengthen parishes.
Summertime in the parishes of the Diocese of Trenton had a decidedly different look and feel this year.
The typically quieter months of July and August were instead quite busy as parishioners, lay leaders and clergy worked to fully digest and respond to preliminary recommendations that had been made about the future of their faith communities. Small group meetings, town hall-style gatherings and official deliberations by the 25 Parish Cohorts (groupings of parishes) unfolded steadily throughout the mid and late-summer weeks as part of the Faith in Our Future initiative.
The results of weeks of work and consultation were set to emerge during the final days of September, as the Cohorts submit their official responses to the Diocese in preparation for the Oct. 18-20 Diocesan Planning Commission retreat. During the retreat, the Commission will review all the input it receives from the 25 Cohorts. In light of the goals and criteria for Faith in Our Future, the Commission will prepare final recommendations of models and ministries, including campus ministry, hospital chaplaincy and jail and prison ministry, along with a rationale.
The final recommendations will be sent directly to Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., by Oct. 31 for his prayerful review as he consults with the diocesan Curia, Episcopal Council and other consultative bodies at multiple levels before making his final decisions. He is expected to announce his final decisions in December 2016 or January 2017 with planning for implementation to follow.
Once the responses are submitted, the work of parish core teams is completed. The next phase of parish-level work will be that of implementation, to begin after the final decisions are announced by the Bishop.
Important to Know
The recommendations that have been reviewed and discussed were preliminary only. As several stages of the process have yet to be completed, no course of action will be taken until Bishop O’Connell announces his final decisions, which is not expected to happen until December 2016 or January 2017.
There are a number of different models of parish organization under consideration, and every parish will have some level of change in connection with its neighboring parishes. At a minimum, parishes will be asked to enter into collaborative relationships with other parishes in their Cohorts. Among other models are merger, linking, in solidum and personal parishes.
Merger and closure are not synonymous terms. If parishes are selected for merger, it means they join together to become an entirely new faith community. It is not about the closing of one parish and the strengthening of the other.
Parish and church are not synonymous terms. The parish is the community of believers and the territorial boundaries in which they reside; the church is the worship site in which the faithful gather. When parishes merge, some worship sites will remain open and some will close, depending on the needs of the new parish and several other criteria.