‘Making All Things New’ Seeks to Enhance Parish Life, Strengthen Ministry

First of Two Parts


Making All Things New, the pastoral planning initiative of the Archdiocese of New York, will move forward as the members of Parish Core Teams—the pastor plus four parishioners—from different regions gather for training sessions on the evenings of Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 24 and 25.

Core team members will receive instructions about the work they are beginning from consultants who work for The Reid Group, a company offering guidance to the archdiocese through the planning process as it unfolds in stages throughout the next year.

Members of a working group of archdiocesan leaders, along with John Reid of The Reid Group, were interviewed by John Woods, Editor-in-Chief of Catholic New York, at one of their meetings this summer.

What are the top goals of Making All Things New?

John Reid: Number one is to enhance the vitality, the vibrancy, the aliveness of every parish in the archdiocese. Secondly, strengthening the ministry and presence of the Church in the urban, suburban and rural areas of the archdiocese.

The third one is about the centrality of the Eucharist. It relates to the vitality of parish life. It makes an enormous difference when parishes are 70 to 80 percent full rather than 70 to 80 percent empty. We’ve heard in diocese after diocese, priests say how their ministry is so enlivened by the richness of people coming together and worshipping.

Then, I think that stewardship of resources is a really critical one—how can the archdiocese be an even better steward of the resources—the human resources, the financial resources, the facility resources…

The fifth would be parish faith formation and Catholic school education.

William Whiston, Chief Financial Officer, Archdiocese of New York: After 200 years, when a lot of the parishes were developed in the first 100 years, it’s time to revisit it now with the change in demographics and the way the world has changed...Communities have changed since the formation of these parishes…In many ways the communities have showed us where they are going. We’re just reacting to those decisions.

Joe Zwilling, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of New York: We are still using a 19th century model in the 21st century. We have to get beyond that. We have to get to where the people are now.

Father John O’Hara, Director of Strategic Pastoral Planning, Archdiocese of New York: I think we have to reinvent the way we do parish because one of the harsh realities is the Church in between the cracks. These are the people whom we are not serving for a variety of reasons. In speaking with His Eminence, he is very forward about reaching out to, I call them, growing Catholics that have gone for a number of reasons. Part of that is because they are not being served.

The cardinal makes the point that this is about people, about bringing the people together, about renewing the Body of Christ in the Paschal Mystery, and it’s exciting. It’s really a spiritual thing, and it’s a challenge for all of us to ask ourselves, “Who are we as Christians? What does it mean to be Catholic Christians in the 21st century? How does that impact on my life and on the lives of other people?”

Whiston: 21st century society is really moving away from physical presence; people are telecommuting. The location is less important in this age of the Internet…In many ways, it supports the concept that it’s about the people. Business and telecommunications are going to the individual rather than having the individual go to a location. It’s more directed to people than institutions or buildings. It might be a tie-in with what we’re looking at…People want to be in a church of 300 or 400, rather than 60…You want to go where everyone else is going.

Reid: There is something at both ends of the age spectrum about that point of place not being so important. For seniors, part of their anxiety will be, “What is going to happen if the church is now a mile or two away and I have mobility challenges?” Our firm had the opportunity to work with St. Augustine and Our Lady of Victory in the Bronx, and the folks from St. Augustine, particularly the older folks, were scared that they were not going to be able to get to church. In those conversations around consolidation, accommodation was made. We will have a bus. Transportation will be provided...

The other age spectrum…one of the surprises of the outcomes of this, is the younger people being more engaged in church for just the reason Bill (Whiston) said. Rather than having 60 people in a church that is mostly empty, that is not particularly attractive to younger people to say that this is something vital and relevant to my life. But when the church is three-quarters and more full, and the celebrations are bringing the best traditions of different communities together, there is a vibrancy that attracts young people.

On both ends of the spectrum, when this is done really well, it’s those kinds of sensitivities that help people to get more excited rather than to drift away.

Are there any mandates besides the goals?

Reid: We would call them criteria. They are called criteria for the assessment of parishes and clusters. I think it’s fair when we ask the pastor plus four in every parish to come forward and to lead work (to know how they are going to be evaluated)...

These criteria, 16 in all, are broken up into four areas. One is the sacramental life of the parish: how are we doing in terms of the celebration of Eucharist and the training of ministers; in terms of dealing with the cultural and ethnic heritage of the people, are we celebrating the feast days of the people that are in the communities; how is the music adding to and subtracting from what is going on?

Second area, evangelization, catechesis, schools, the kind of lifelong faith formation and Catholic school reality…That’s a real critical area.

Third area is about stewardship and outreach. How is the stewardship of the resources, the people, the facilities, the finances, and the outreach to those most in need? That came up in the parish surveys, how critical that outreach area is.

Fourth area, effective administration. The financial stability of parishes and whether they are exercising good stewardship of resources. That takes into account the lessening number of priests…

It also takes into account the geographic proximity. This often becomes a key factor. When you have multiple parishes in a very small area here, or up north in Sullivan and Orange, and so on, when you have great distances, what are the effects of the geographic realities?

We don’t want any surprises, people saying that they didn’t know how they are being evaluated.

The average parishioner, if he or she is aware of Making All Things New, has a limited understanding of what it is and how it works. Will the average parishioner be engaged in this process as it proceeds?

Father O’Hara: It requires the dynamic leadership of the pastor to make the core team work. They are going to be reaching out to all the people in the parish, the education community, the religious ed people, the sports people, the Scouts, Holy Name Society, everybody, to make sure everyone has their say. Everyone is told what’s going on, why we’re doing this, what the benefits are, what some of the challenges are going to be. To get the input from all the people, the positive, the negative and everything in between, the key is that everyone is listened to. That’s a very big job.

Constant reminders in the bulletin, on the website, from the pulpit…Keeping something before the people. Something as simple as an intercession in the prayer of the faithful or bulletin blurbs or verbal announcements from the pulpit. That’s a very important thing…

I think it can work and I’ve sensed among many pastors an enthusiasm, like, thankfully we’re doing something, we should have done this 20 years ago. They’re going to jump on board. I hope so.

Reid: In a process like this, it’s communication, communication, communication. For example…we offer 15 sample bulletin announcements, sample prayers of the faithful. We begin by saying, “Being part of Making All Things New provides many opportunities for good communication with all parishioners and the community as a whole.”

We will tell core team members that they are responsible for seeing that all the work gets done but that they are not responsible for doing all the work. We will give them five or six ways to involve parishioners in the process because…the more people who are involved in the process leading to important decisions like this, the more invested they are going to be in the outcome, in living it out, in carrying it out. I’d like to think that a year from September, when the cardinal announces his decisions, nobody in the archdiocese will say, “I didn’t know this was going on.”

Two to three years ago, a lot of pastoral planning data was gathered on the vicariate level. How has that been helpful?

Father O’Hara: We’re ahead of the curve because the parishes have already gathered significant information concerning the demographics, their sacramental life and also their financial situation. In the initial stages, we are not asking them to do that all over again, but rather to take it out and review it, freshen it up…so that it’s current.

Reid: 82 or 83 percent of the parishes responded. What the cardinal said on June 6 (at a meeting at St. Joseph’s Seminary) about this project being first and foremost a response to the needs of the people, those needs he then articulated of outreach, education, vital worship and so on are what shines through the survey. This very much builds on the Making All Things New input.

What is the involvement of your company? What resources do you employ in a project like this?

Reid: We’re involved very much in service to the leadership here…The resources we employ are 14 people overall, 12 onsite consultants, two for each of the pastoral areas. Each twosome has about 60 parishes that they are tracking. We provided a planning guide. This resource will be translated into Spanish.

We have a communications director in our company, who worked for 26 years with the Archdiocese of Seattle. She understands Church realities and politics…She and Joe (Zwilling, the director of communications in the archdiocese) have been in regular conversation. There is a first-draft communications plan that will evolve. How this is communicated in a consistent basis really helps people feel like this is a process worth their time to engage in.

Our goal is to facilitate the process through these steps, not the content of those. That’s the work of the core teams at the parish level and the cluster level. It’s the work of the advisory group, ultimately it’s the work of the cardinal.

How many similar consultations have you done through the years? Have you worked with other dioceses similar in size to New York?

Reid: The process we’re using here is 20-some years in the making. One version of it I worked with in the Archdiocese of Seattle in the late 1980s was called Viable Faith Community Project. That approach has been merged with an approach used in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee since the 1990s. What we have here has evolved; we have kind of a similar process, never as large as this, in the Archdiocese of Newark…from 2004 to 2008. We’re working right now in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis…

We have learned a lot about how to both have the cardinal, in this case, set the tone by the goals and the criteria for parishes. But also empower the pastors and laity in each parish to offer their best thinking so that by the time it gets to the decision-making step, the cardinal can feel confident that he has the best thinking of the people from the parishes and clusters but also from the advisory group, people like the working group here and from the Presbyteral Council.