At The Reid Group, we have worked with numerous dioceses and archdioceses around the country as they plan for the best way to meet the pastoral needs of Catholics in the future. Over the years we have determined some best practices we recommend for any parish reorganization project:
DO assess the current organization of your parishes in light of current and emerging demographics.
In our experience, the vast majority of decisions about the current configuration of parishes in a diocese were made in the early- to mid-20th century. As we know, much has changed in the last 60-70 years—populations have shifted and become more diverse—and parishes must change to be able to serve their people in meaningful ways.
DO consider a project to re-organize existing parishes into a more manageable, workable system.
Unless you are totally satisfied with your current configuration of parishes, an important way to be a good steward of the people and facilities you have is to commit to a process of parish re-structuring in order to revitalize parish life and strengthen the presence and ministry of the Church in the diocese.
DO commit to a diocesan-wide restructuring process and DON’T give in to the temptation to do just one group of parishes at a time.
The benefit of a diocesan-wide approach is that no parish feels singled out because all parishes participate in the self-evaluation process. That process is conducted in conjunction with neighboring parishes in order to exercise better stewardship of available resources and ultimately to lead to a new parish spirit throughout the whole diocese.
DO focus on creating new parish communities rather than closing parishes.
This is an essential ingredient in successful parish re-organization. When re-organization is done well, there are no winners and losers. Instead, all Catholics in a given area have the sacred opportunity to contribute to helping build a new parish community. For example, if four parishes are coming together to form one community, there would be closing liturgies in all four parishes and then an opening liturgy at the site of the new parish.
DO engage in both a “top-down” and a “bottom-up” process. DON’T exclude key constituencies from the planning process.
Bishops and their advisors have a key role to play in the project. They establish goals for the overall process and criteria for viable parishes. They also identify explicit assumptions unique to the diocese that will influence the re-organization. Each parish has a significant role to play as well; we recommend that the pastor or pastoral administrator and four parishioners be appointed as representatives from each parish to help shape their parish and cluster plan. This combination or “both/and” approach offers the opportunity for a tremendous experience of partnership and leads to new life for Catholics throughout the diocese.
DO consider implementing a Chancery re-organization at the same time.
Since the parish structures will change, it makes sense to many bishops to look at restructuring the Chancery or Pastoral Center to ensure that diocesan staff members are best organized to extend the bishop’s ministry in effective service to all parishes and faith communities.
A poorly-executed parish reorganization process guarantees that all the focus will be on the disruption, pain and loss the process can cause. But dioceses that pay attention to these “dos and don’ts” open the opportunity to focus on the growth, revitalization and new life that this planning process can bring to the local Catholic community.