Encouraging Words • In his homily during Mass celebrated in St. Luke Church, Toms River, for parish pastoral and finance council members, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., discussed the opportunities and challenges that will come with the Faith In Our Future  initiative. Ken Falls photos
Encouraging Words • In his homily during Mass celebrated in St. Luke Church, Toms River, for parish pastoral and finance council members, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., discussed the opportunities and challenges that will come with the Faith In Our Future  initiative. Ken Falls photos

By Rayanne Bennett | Associate Publisher

Group by group, question by question, diocesan leaders and representatives of a professional strategic planning group have spent the last two months in a series of meetings about the upcoming diocesan pastoral planning initiative in order to prepare some of the key people who will be involved in the process.

The intiative, which is called Faith in Our Future, will be launched at the beginning of Advent, and involve all 107 parishes in the Diocese, as well as diocesan organizations and ministries. The official introduction will be made by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in a special publication that will be mailed to parishioners in late November.

Spearheading the effort for the Diocese is Msgr. Leonard F. Troiano, who was appointed in July by Bishop O’Connell as the episcopal vicar for diocesan planning.  Msgr. Troiano is also the episcopal vicar for Ocean County and pastor of St. Pio of Pietrelcina Parish, Lavallette, two posts that he will relinquish in January as Faith in Our Future swings into full operation.

Msgr. Troiano is joined in this work by Terry Ginther, executive director of the Office of Pastoral Life and Mission and director of the Department of Pastoral Planning. Together, they serve as the diocesan principals for the initiative that will be conducted by the Seattle-based Reid Group, a strategic planning consultancy which specializes in strengthening faith-based ministries and organizations.

The Reids were commissioned earlier this year by Bishop O’Connell, who laid out the five main goals for the Faith in Our Future process. 

They are to:

  • 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 ten years.
  • Improve our 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 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 segment of our Diocesan population, within our parishes and organizations.

Simply put, Faith in Our Future is a way for the Diocese to respond in a positive, life-giving way to the realities that face the Church, particularly in light of the many changes that have come in the last 15-20 years. The process will lead each parish in an assessment of its own strengths and challenges, and will explore ways that neighboring parishes can work together for the benefit of parish members and the mission of the Church in general.

Since mid-September, one or more representatives of the Reid Group have addressed six different groups or gatherings, including the annual Priest Convocation, a Chancery staff meeting, the Pastoral and Finance Councils, the annual Deacon Convocation and two focus groups with campus ministers and prison chaplains. The presentations have been based on the same information, though the conversations and questions surrounding them have differed depending on the group and the specific ways in which it will be involved. 

The Oct. 17 presentation to parish pastoral councils and finance councils followed the celebration of Mass by Bishop O’Connell. In his homily delivered to the assembled council members, Bishop O’Connell reflected on the many ways that the Church is discussed in spiritual terms, including the “pilgrim people of God,” and the “Body of Christ in time.” Still, he pointed out, the Church is also an institution, “an organization with structures that support it and make it present in the world.”

Reflecting on the topic of “priorities” that were identified in the day’s Scripture, the Bishop said, “It seems to me as your Bishop, that the Word of God is encouraging us as pastoral and finance councils to focus on priorities; the pastoral priorities of the community of faith needed to serve and meet its needs, and the financial priorities within the community of faith needed to make that service possible.”

He later added that as a result of shared values and priorities, “We move forward as a Diocese and as its parishes with faith in the future.”

All of the six presentations given in recent months covered background information that will guide the planning process as it unfolds, including the steps of the process; the timeline; who the key participants will be and how they will exercise their roles; what the criteria will be in evaluating parishes and diocesan entities, and how information will be shared with parishioners and the broader Catholic community.

Specifically, attendees at these different presentations learned that Faith in Our Future will involve every parish in the Diocese and will include a parish self-evaluation phase which will allow all parishioners an opportunity to give their input. Reid Group representatives also reported that the parish effort will be coordinated by a five-person core team, and that these core teams will participate in one of five training sessions on either Nov. 17 or 18.

Much of this information will be expanded upon in the publication slated for late November, and will be posted to a dedicated web page that will serve to keep parishioners up-to-date with regular bulletins.  The direct address of this web page will soon be announced.

For more information about the special publication that will be mailed to parishioners, contact the Office of Communications at 609-403-7199.