Dreaming dreams and seeing visions

22 February 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — feast of the Chair of St. Peter 

Here at St. Patrick Parish, dear readers, we have been actively seeking the dreamers and visionaries among us. It’s all part of the “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope” initiative.

Sociologically, institutions (even churches) tend to avoid dreamers and visionaries because dreamers and visionaries advocate for creative change. Historically, dreamers and visionaries often end up ignored, resisted, excommunicated, imprisoned, or even executed. We are living in an age of ever-accelerating change. “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope” represents an ecclesiastical culture change, a tectonic shift. 

I’m so old I remember the days of parochial tribalism. Back in the day, parishes were like fiefdoms. The thought of parishes working together never occurred to anyone. Parishes were in competition with each other. One parish’s loss was another parish’s gain. There was no sense that we were all part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River. Worse, clergy divided into “leagues” based on primary language groups. You had little contact with priests from other leagues. I am not making this up. People speak of “the good old days.” Oddly, I don’t remember them that way.

Things are different today. There is a universal call for imaginative collaboration in the task of proclaiming the Gospel. This is the reason I’ve been working to identify, assemble, and energize the dreamers and visionaries among the faithful I serve. 

The basic questions are: What are the strengths of our faith community? What are the needs of the wider community? How do we reach out? How can we grow the Church in this time and place? What needs to be done? Can we do it? Who may be willing and able to work with us? 

Nine parishes have been selected to pilot the diocesan process of “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope.” St. Patrick Parish is one of those pilot parishes. The way I see it, it’s a valuable service this parish is being called to provide to the diocese and to all its 82 parishes.

This is the first time parishes throughout the diocese have worked together at evangelization since “We Care/We Share,” the 1970s outreach effort. That was a modest project designed for clusters of neighborhood churches. The strategy was simple: 1. Get together; 2. Plan an event in each Catholic church; 3. Go out and invite all your neighbors. It provided an initial experience of collaboration in our common mission. Now we are ready for more.

“Rebuilding in Faith and Hope” is a much more ambitious effort. The goal is to have all parishes throughout the diocese working together on the Church’s mission of evangelization within the next couple of years. This is a cutting-edge vision involving bishop, clergy, and laity. It’s a call not only to throw open the windows but also to make sure the church doors are always unlocked to everyone. It will require faith, courage, and enthusiasm. 

To begin, I appointed a Pastoral Planning Team for this parish. Not a single person declined the invitation. All are parishioners in good standing who take an active part in community life. Here are my dreamers and visionaries: 

Paul DeMeo is a medical doctor who serves on the Parish Pastoral Council.

Tim Downs is also a member of the Parish Pastoral Council.

John Fuller has experience in town and state government. He is a member of the Parish Finance Council.

Ray Gagnon is a medical doctor, a long-time member of the Parish Pastoral Council, and chairman of the initial Parish Core Team. He frequently advocates for persons with disabilities.

Bill Hays is an ordained deacon who ministers here. He specializes in outreach to the homebound and in preparing young parents for the Baptism of their child. Deacon Bill holds a doctorate in Jurisprudence. 

Jane Hopewood has a masters degree in Business Administration. She has been involved in pastoral planning for decades. 

Mary Louise Klimm is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in family relationships. She volunteers in our Marriage preparation program.

Jim Sawyer is the past State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus.

Jan Shutten holds a masters degree in Ministry from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. Her ministerial interests are many and varied.

Once the group had gathered together in the rectory parlor, I couldn’t just say, “Now, let’s all sit around in a circle dreaming dreams and seeing visions.” 

Fortunately, the diocese is providing us with the resource of experts in strategic planning. Their job is to moderate the parish-level discussion, listen to the assembled dreamers and then eventually open the discussion to any and all interested parishioners.

The members of the Diocesan Commission are Fathers Jim Morse and Tim Reis, Marilyn Blanchette, and Mark Dollhopf.

Our first meeting, like that old 1940s song, accentuated the positive. The moderators didn’t even mention parish finances (our main challenge) at this early point in the process. That will come later, I’m sure, but at our initial meeting it would have turned our nascent dreams into our worst nightmares. 

And so here in Falmouth we are dreaming dreams and seeing visions. Stay tuned. 

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

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts