Jennifer Mauro, managing editor of The Monitor, recently sat down with Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of Pastoral Life and Mission, to speak about the Faith in Our Future process – its successes, challenges, hopes and where it stands today.
Q: Can you briefly bring the Diocese up to speed on where we are in the Faith in Our Future process?
A: The process began in 2015 as a five-year process: two years of
planning, and now we’re in the three-year implementation process. The commission that oversees the process met in June, and we’re about to start the second year of implementation in July.
Q: What realities are the parishes in the Diocese facing?
A: Things change faster than we can keep up with. The demographics are changing. People are moving out of the state, and people who move into the Diocese may not necessarily be Catholic – so over the last 15 to 20 years …[we’ve gone from 850,000 to] 730,000 Catholics ... Our population is also becoming much more diverse. For the first 125 years of our history, most people who came to the Diocese of Trenton were of European heritage, but now the number of people [coming] from Asia and Oceania are growing … and the Latino community, from Central and South America. Probably between 15 percent and 20 percent of Catholics in the Diocese are from Spanish-speaking countries now. That diversity has enriched our Diocese, but it has also changed the way we minister.
Q: The Faith in Our Future Implementation Commission met June 5-6 for a working retreat to gauge the progress of the Cohorts over the past year and to dialogue on what is next. What were some of the trends and takeaways from that retreat?
A: Each of the 25 Cohorts put forth a plan; they implemented that plan to the best of their abilities last year, and then we asked them to report their progress. Some of those plans were delayed or direction was changed, but the commission, my partner Msgr. Troiano [diocesan episcopal vicar for planning] and I were very encouraged by what was accomplished in the first year … This first year has been about understanding what a collaborative rather than a competitive relationship looks like between parishes … We’re hoping now that the collaboration in the second year will deepen and really begin to address the goals of the process.
Q: What are some of the examples of creative approaches to collaboration that have been proposed or put into action?
A: Two parishes in Lakewood are destined to merge in a few years … They have done a magnificent job of collaborating in the sharing of facilities … They know their future is together, and so it’s broken down some of the barriers ... In Cohort 19, (southern Monmouth County and the coast) there are five parishes, two merging this year… those parishes are going to hire someone as a youth director, who will then work with teams for youth ministry in each of the four parishes and coordinate some shared activities.
Q: The Diocese will see seven parish mergers on July 1; how have these parishes been preparing over the last year?
A: There are implementation teams for both parishes meeting with either the one pastor they share or the two pastors, and trying to think about how the community [can become] stronger as one unit … So over the year there have been opportunities for people to pray together, to get to know one another [at] parish picnics, learning and dialogue. … One of the most exciting things … is that the parishioners have input in naming the new parish.
Q: What advice would you give to parishes that are facing mergers or other big changes?
A: Participation is the key … The new parishes will be what you make of them.… they will be wonderful communities for the people of God to be together in prayer and learning, but also will have opportunities for active Catholics to invite inactive Catholics, or those who have never met Jesus. They will have more resources together than they had separately to accomplish that work. And so my advice is, please don’t withhold yourself from the process; even though you may have different ideas, your ideas need to come to the table.
Q: In any initiative, you set out with high hopes and goals you hope will be met. How is the Diocese doing overall when it comes to Faith in Our Future? Have some of these goals been easier to accomplish than others? What is the plan to accomplish the goals that have yet to be met?
A: I think we’re certainly seeing enlivening of parishes … We are improving our pastoral care of Hispanic Catholics through 18 centers for Hispanic ministry around the Diocese, plus two new ones in this next year. Also connected to the stewardship goal [is] how we allocate our resources. I see lots of collaboration going on, but … people forget that the goal is about collaboration for the purpose of evangelization … We asked each Cohort for at least one goal that would be outreach oriented, either in the area of social concerns or evangelization. And they did a beautiful job ... So we’re very excited for some of the initiatives in that second year that will help to address those goals.
Q: What is the role and responsibility of the parishes and parishioners as Faith in Our Future moves forward?
A: Pope Francis, Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II have all talked about the co-responsibility of all the members of the Church for this mission for evangelization ... So for me, that’s the main responsibility; it will take all of us to accomplish this mission, it can’t just be some of us. And [because] about 20 percent of [Catholics] attend Mass regularly, only about 20 percent of people are active in parish communities. [About] 30 percent or 35 percent support their parishes [financially]. Imagine what could happen if those [numbers] were larger. … Imagine if each person were to invite someone to meet Jesus in the Catholic Church in a new way.
Q: How does prayer, faith and discernment factor into the Faith in Our Future process – not just among Cohort and Commission members, but the parishioners in the pews as well?
A: Faith in Our Future is fundamentally a pastoral planning process … And pastoral planning cannot be separated from the prayer life of the community … So it’s our hope that each of the Cohorts are praying together … about the challenges that are facing our Diocese … the prayer life of those communities is what inspires the work of Faith in Our Future, in each of the parishes, in each of the cohorts and even at the diocesan level.