Going forward ...

Friday 26 January 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus

There are, dear readers, certain catchphrases TV news commentators use that make us all cringe. Here, in my opinion, are some of the top offenders: “At the end of the day”; “New right now”; “Breaking as we speak”; “Our sources tell us”; “Well, listen”; “Continuing to unfold”; “Stay with us”; “But first we begin with.” My personal favorite in the overused cliché category is “Going forward.” 

“Going forward” was once a perfectly good phrase. Who after all, in this day and age, wants to be “standing still” or worse, who wants to be “going backward”? Since 2015, the Diocese of Fall River has been “going forward” with a pastoral planning process called “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope.” Here’s what has happened thus far:

The guiding vision is to refocus the diocese from “maintenance to missionary.” The bishop issued a pastoral letter diocesan-wide to explain his vision of the future. 

As one of the first steps, a representative diocesan Task Force was convened. The Task Force’s strategy was to study the Spiritual, physical, and fiscal health of each parish in the diocese. The compilation of information included self-reported statistics, an online survey of parishioners, and feedback from each parish’s core leadership.

Subsequently, an Implementation Team was appointed with the goal of making recommendations to the bishop based on the collected data. The Task Force and Implementation Team have complete(d) their work. We are now (how shall I say?) — going forward.

Concurrently, the bishop is in an ongoing process of meeting with small groups of priests to personally explain his vision for the diocese and to elicit thoughts and comments from the gathered priests. 

Going forward with the mission of strategic planning in parishes, a Parish Planning Commission has been appointed. Part of its task is to oversee parish revitalization efforts throughout the diocese. Hopefully, all parishes will be actively engaged in a revitalization program within a couple of years. 

There is also an immediate outreach underway to those parishes that seem to be handicapped in some way (buildings, finances, and/or Sacramental life) from fully participating in the revitalization effort. Parish Planning Teams are forming to discern what, given the facts, can be appropriately done in their particular situation. The diocesan-moderated sessions are intended to be open, honest, and frank discussions to identify realistic options. There are no foregone conclusions. 

The Catholic Church is the oldest and largest institution in the world. We are currently 1.2 billion strong and we are still growing. One reason is that Catholic parishes do not operate separately. They are not individual communities operating more or less on their own. Together, parishes constitute a Diocesan Church. Each diocese, under the pastoral care of a bishop, forms the local Church, not particular congregations. This is our organizational strength.

Another strength of the Catholic Church is our ability to adapt to changing pastoral situations. A cursory summary of the Catholic presence right here on Cape Cod proves my point. Barnstable (the county seat) is the only city on the Cape but there are 12 unincorporated communities, 14 towns, 20 villages, and 40 census-designated places. This requires flexible pastoral planning.

The biggest town on Cape Cod is Falmouth, where, coincidentally, I happen to live. So, let’s look for any evidence of pastoral change over the years in the Catholic Church in Falmouth. We won’t have to look far.

The first Catholic church in the Town of Falmouth was established at Woods Hole in 1882. By 1915, the mother church had three missions (Falmouth Village, Falmouth Heights, and the Megansett neighborhood of North Falmouth). In 1922, a national parish was established in East Falmouth. By 1928, with the creation of a parish in Falmouth Heights, there were two territorial parishes, two chapels, and one national parish. 

In 1931, the mission in Falmouth Village became a parish church, with the chapel in Falmouth Heights as its mission. In 1977, the number of territorial parishes doubled from two to four (A brand-new parish was established in the Old Silver Beach neighborhood of North Falmouth; the national parish became territorial; the Megansett chapel was suppressed).

In 2013, the Woods Hole parish was likewise suppressed. There are now three parishes in Falmouth (two parishes on Nantucket Sound and one on Buzzards Bay) as well as two summer chapels, and two cemeteries.

See what I mean?

Pastoral change in Falmouth has been constant, as it has no doubt been in the city, town, or village in which you happen to live.

The key to successful pastoral planning is not any one particular program, commission, task force, or team. The key to pastoral planning is the Holy Spirit. Pastoral planning began at Pentecost with the founding of the Church. It is the Holy Spirit Who leads the Church into the future.

We are living in exciting times. The Holy Spirit seems to be moving throughout the Diocese of Fall River. Our best response, going forward, is to pray, “Come Holy Spirit” — and to mean it.

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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