A FAITHFUL FUTURE • At a town hall meeting held in St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, core team chair Mike McCahill, at center, was joined by team members John Kurowski, Dan Ryan, Betty Martin and Lynn Hoffman. John Batkowski photo 
A FAITHFUL FUTURE • At a town hall meeting held in St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, core team chair Mike McCahill, at center, was joined by team members John Kurowski, Dan Ryan, Betty Martin and Lynn Hoffman. John Batkowski photo 
Standing before 50 parishioners in his community’s Feb. 18 town hall meeting, Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, said the goal of Faith In Our Future is about responding to the question, “How can the Church best respond to the needs of the 21st century?”

The strategic planning process is very important for the Diocese because “we are responding to the shifting realities of the contemporary American Church,” said Father Koch.

“Knowing that going forward, we have fewer resources...it is essential for us to redistribute those resources in an exercise of stewardship. Instead of the traditional parish set-up, new paradigms of parish life must be explored,” he said.

“We need to understand this study as a positive step in vitalization
 and growth and not as a contraction or loss. We have to be flexible to be vibrant. It is with much foresight that Bishop [David M.] O’Connell has pushed this forward at this time,” said Father Koch. In addition to Father Koch, the parish core team members, Mike Mc-Cahill, chair, Lynn Hoffman, secretary, John Kurowski, Betty Martin and Dan Ryan, spoke about the area of study for which they are responsible and how St. Benedict Parish and School fared in each category. 

Martin sees Faith in Our Future as providing “an opportunity to be pro-active and forward-thinking as we consider what lies ahead for our parish community and the Diocese as
 a whole.” “It is my firm hope that the Spirit will enlighten and motivate all members of our Diocese, the Bishop, clergy and the laity to come together in prayer and action to secure a vibrant future for the Diocese of Trenton,” she said. 

Looking Ahead

Parishioners at the meeting said they appreciated hearing insights to questions and the thinking behind how parishes were grouped in their respective cohorts.

Jeanne Gillen, a 30-year parishioner, said she realized that changes need to be made in how parishes minister to
 their faithful. “The days when there would be churches on every street corner and filled are not there anymore,” said Gillen.

Kathy Lo Bue said that two town hall meetings were held Feb. 16 in St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Freehold, – one in the morning and one in the evening. With the hope of eliciting the most honest and open discussion, Lo Bue, parish core team chair, noted that it was decided that Msgr. Sam Sirianni, pastor, not be present for the meetings.

Lo Bue reported that based on completed surveys and town hall meeting discussions, many parishioners
 were surprised by the overall statistics, namely the outstanding $60 million debt the Diocese holds for parishes, the number of priests who will retire in the next 10 years, the low numbers of people contributing to their parishes and the amount of their contributions.

Parishioners are looking for more social engagement, family education and community outreach offerings, such as making available counseling for career, alcohol and substance abuse and the divorced; ways to engage youth and their families to participate in the celebration of Mass and in parish life, and on how homilies should “be well delivered, downto- earth and [delivered] with inspiration,' she said.

A Broader Perspective

Anthony Coticelli is one of several diocesan appointed facilitators who will be actively engaged in working with the parish cohorts. He is also a core team member in Visitation Parish, Brick, where he has belonged for about 20 years.

In his facilitator role, Coticelli was present for the Feb. 18 town hall meeting in St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, where he found the parishioner participation to be “respectful, fervent and relaxed.”

“I was incredibly pleased and humbled by the participation and the response,” Coticelli said adding that “people can listen prayerfully and respectfully even when they have concerns and anxiety about the future.”

Questions and concerns addressed
 by St. Martha parishioners Coticelli noted were primarily about the short time frames for decisions and developing collaboration among the parishes in the cohort.

Reiterating the need for parishes to work together for Faith In Our Future to be successful, St. Benedict Parish core team chair Mike McCahill said, that in his career as a business professional, “I have seen smart leaders plan in decades, think in years, work in months, live in days and celebrate in moments.”

“Faith in Our Future is an important step in the right direction,” McCahill continued. “Let’s face it. The numbers are bad. We all need to step up our game. We need to brainstorm and prepare for what our future is going to look like.”