By Terry Ginther | Special Contributor

The Faith in Our Future decisions announced by Bishop O’Connell this week group the parishes of the Diocese of Trenton into 25 Cohorts of collaborative parishes.  All of the parishes, even those involved in a linkage or merger at some time during the next three years, will be collaborating with neighboring parishes in ministry.

Collaboration can be defined as people or organizations working together to achieve something successfully.  It moves beyond occasional cooperation and the coordination of Mass or Confession schedules. In collaboration, two or more parishes formally agree to work together in a specific way for the foreseeable future.  

Collaboration between parishes is consistent with the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ; but it is not an end in itself.  The purpose of collaboration is to make it possible for all parishes to become more effective at evangelization.  It can be like a yoke that spreads the weight across two oxen, allowing them to pull together a heavier load than either is able to move alone.  Collaboration has the potential to free up precious resources which can be used for new approaches or allow the parish to reach people on the margins.  It focuses neighboring parishes on common goals, reducing competition and increasing the impact they can have on the residents of a local area together.  

Here is an example of how a Cohort of three parishes might collaborate:

Two linked parishes share a pastor, two permanent deacons, a business manager and a director of religious education.  These parishes have a joint pastoral council, and their finance councils meet together three times a year to consider ways to share resources.  These “sister” parishes share an active ministry among hospital patients and the homebound elderly.  

The parishes of the Cohort split the cost of hiring one full-time, qualified youth minister to develop youth involvement and youth ministry in all three parishes.  Adult volunteers from all three parishes work with the youth minister to plan a mix of shared large group activities, retreats and service projects, as well as small group weekly gatherings at each parish.  The youth minister helps the parishes be intentional about leadership development among young people; providing training and mentoring for youth who serve as peer ministers, altar server “captains,” religious education assistants, cantors and readers at Mass.

One Marriage Ministry team sees to the Pre-Cana and Marriage Enrichment needs of the Cohort parishes.  Addiction Recovery Support and Bereavement Support Groups are offered Cohort-wide.  These are not the efforts of one parish to which the parishioners of other parishes are invited; rather they are joint efforts.  Those serving and those “being served” come from the three parishes.  Care is taken to offer programs at places and during times most likely to reach inactive Catholics along with parishioners who are active in parish life.

There are between two and six parishes in each Cohort.  As you see in the example, parishes may collaborate with one other parish or with several  other parishes.  The shape of the collaborative relationships in each Cohort is limited only by the Cohort’s capacity to imagine ways of working together.

Mrs. Ginther serves as executive director of the Diocese’s Office of Pastoral Life and Mission.