By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
Some 30 representatives from parishes throughout the Diocese gathered Feb. 24 in St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, for a meeting of Cohort chairmen and women. The gathering, facilitated by Msgr. Leonard F. Troiano, episcopal vicar for planning, and Terry Ginther, executive director for pastoral life and diocesan chancellor, brought the Cohort chairs and project managers together to discuss the implementation phase of Faith in our Future, the diocesan initiative to address the challenges facing the Church of Trenton.
The members of the 25 Cohorts and the managers who have helped them navigate through the Faith in our Future process shared a progress report within their own Cohorts, sharing the strengths and challenges that have been encountered during the implementation as Cohorts move forward in writing a plan for the next year.
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“We all care about the Church and moving forward in the Church together,” Ginther said. “We have to become a planning organization. We want to help you help your parishes embrace a more regional idea of Church. We’re ‘right-sizing’ the Church.”
That planning was evaluated and the Cohort chairs shared the strengths they found in collaborating with their Cohort parishes.
In addition to increased communication, parishes cited growth in the areas of religious education and evolving youth ministry programs, increased support to local Catholic schools, and shared events and resources among parishes.
While the positives gained through the implementation phase were highlighted, the challenges Cohort chairs and members faced were also acknowledged. Those challenges expressed by the Cohort chairs and committee members include those who are reluctant to change, coming together for meetings due to scheduling conflicts and cultural differences among the Cohort parishes.
Recognizing the challenges and the struggles that a Cohort faces, Ginther offered words of encouragement. “God places all of the resources needed in our local Churches. We’ve got to believe that.”
FIOF’s Ultimate Goal
While challenges were acknowledged, those in attendance remain committed to the mission and goals of Faith in our Future, which include: Strengthen and enliven the parishes of the Diocese as well as diocesan-sponsored organizations and ministries; explore new models of leadership in parishes and ministries in institutional settings (schools, colleges, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, etc.) in order to address the challenges presented by the anticipated retirement of a large number of clergy and religious over the next 10 years; improve stewardship of personnel, finances, and facilities and other parish and diocesan resources; establish collaborative relationships among the parishes and ministries of the Diocese that will build upon the Gospel mandate to re/evangelize the local Church, especially those who live on the fringes of the Church, as well as those who do not yet know Christ; provide for pastoral ministry to Hispanic Catholics, the fastest growing segments of our diocesan population, within parishes and organizations.
Dick Shrumpf of Cohort 24, which consists of the four Toms River parishes – St. Joseph, St. Justin, St. Luke and St. Maximillian Kolbe – referred to the latest State of the Diocese Report and noted that “there is a sense of urgency in this process.”
Ginther agreed. “The Church means too much to us; it’s going to look different than it does now. Unless we do something, we will wither on the vine. We need to think differently and find ways to address those five goals. Those five goals matter.”
In addition, Ginther challenged the Cohorts to look beyond their parishes and include a social outreach goal in the Year Two plan of Faith in Our Future, which Cohorts are actively developing as they work toward a May 15 deadline.
The group discussed best practices for structuring Cohort meetings and found some inspirations from the meeting in moving forward.
“The energy was phenomenal. This is really dynamic. There is a lot of learning going on and I hope we do this more frequently,” Msgr. Troiano said.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
Several in attendance said they would be coming away with new ideas and a renewed sense of energy back to their Cohort parishes.
Mary Ann Collett is a co-chair for Cohort 22, which is composed of Visitation and St. Dominic Parishes, Brick, and both St. Mary of the Lake and St. Anthony Claret Parishes, Lakewood.
“This coming together to share our needs and our frustration is very valuable,” she shared.
Bill Setaro of Cohort 18, which includes Holy Innocents Parish, Neptune, Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, and St. Anselm Wayside, said, “It’s good to see we are not alone in this. The challenges and struggles we face are very similar. I feel very energized and confident to go back now and strengthen our plan and figure things out.”
Diocesan officials said they hope the Cohort chairs will return to their parish communities with a better understanding of the process and the importance of Faith in our Future.
“We have to be inviting to people,” said Ginther. “We have to be open to the transformation. The Spirit is bringing about change. We are one Church. What does it look like? We don’t know yet – we’re building it together.”