By KATIE BORKOWSKI
As the process of Ministry 2025 has unfolded, there have continued to be changes to the plan.
The last major work with Ministry 2025 on the deanery level was the four regional deanery meetings held in April. According to the plan, there will be four deaneries when Ministry 2025 goes into effect next summer.
“There, we shared information and explained the draft plan of Ministry 2025,” said Father Brent Lingle, director of pastoral planning for the diocese. “After those deanery meetings, a majority of the work on the plan has taken place on the parish cluster level where the parish clusters met and provided feedback on the plan.”
Father Ed Girres, dean of the current northeast deanery and pastor at the parishes in Algona and Whittemore, pointed out Ministry 2025 was a needed process, “not only because of declining number of priests, but also because of our declining population – especially in the rural areas.”
“Change is never easy,” he said. “We received a great deal of feedback from various clusters/areas over the summer. That really helped our committee to continue to plan and develop the best possible plan that we could for the future.”
Father Lingle acknowledged the diocese has received “a lot of feedback talking about the strengths and weaknesses of the plan as well as specific suggestions as to how parish clusters should be configured.”
“The local feedback helped us to see specific local issues that we perhaps were not aware of,” he said. “Much of this feedback has been used to rework the draft plan.”
The director of pastoral planning hasn’t really been surprised as to how the process is going.
“Things have gone how we have expected them to,” said Father Lingle. “I knew after we asked for feedback, people would approach the process in a serious manner and provide feedback that would help make the plan stronger. In the midst of the difficulty of change, I think most people understand that we have to do something because our current reality is not sustainable into the future.”
Father Girres pointed out there was a good deal of feedback that stated “the case of their particular parish to stay open.”
“If they left us with just that information, it wasn’t very helpful,” said Father Girres. “We were grateful, however, that there were some specific suggestions for better, more natural alignments among parishes, and a better look at which parishes ought to stay open for the sake of a Catholic school or because of some vitality and numbers that we were not aware of.”
He added some feedback also argued against the “three Mass a weekend” rule. Others didn’t understand why retired priests couldn’t help out and keep some parishes open.
Father Dan Guenther, dean of the central deanery and pastor at the parishes in Cherokee and Marcus, pointed out he feels like “we’ve been left in the dark pretty much over the summer.”
“Folks were not happy when they initially heard all the changes, but participated as best they could with the meetings,” he said. “They worked hard to get alternate plans to the diocese by June 1, then it seems things dropped from then on. I’m not saying that the diocesan team wasn’t working on things over the summer, but nothing was really communicated to parishioners in the diocese. We’re dealing with some very difficult changes coming along, and the folks need to be better kept up on things.”
The biggest concern for many people “is the loss of their parish and the identity that goes along with that,” said Father Lingle. “Questions people are asking include – Will it be more difficult to get to Mass? Will a priest be available? These are just a few of the concerns.”
Father Girres noted the biggest concern is the “loss of a sense of community, people not going to Mass any more or joining a Protestant church. In some cases, people didn’t think there was enough physical space to accommodate some of the new alignments.”
Father Randy Schon, pastor at Sacred Heart in Boone and dean for the southeast deanery, said regarding suggestions and concerns from priests and laity, “We hope that parish clusters are able to make their own Mass schedules based on local need, rather than having a set number imposed by an outside group.”
Probably the biggest concern Father Guenther is hearing is that “the diocese is biting off more than it can handle all at once.”
“Perhaps submitting a plan where parishes would close, cluster or merge together over a defined number of years seems to be a more common suggestion, instead of the major change for the summer of 2017,” said Father Guenther. “I know we’ve talked about the notion of ‘retiring into,’ but that’s still generally misunderstood by many in the pews.”
There will be a clergy meeting in October to look at the final draft plan that has the feedback incorporated into it.
Father Girres explained besides seeing the revised plan, “TeamWorks International (the plan’s development consultant) will give the priests and deacons an overview of the next steps for pastoral planning in each of the new clusters.”
“From there, we will share the revised plan to the entire diocese,” said Father Lingle. “The next step is to begin the process of the parish cluster phase of pastoral planning. Much of that will get underway in late fall and winter.”
Part of the next step will be recruiting and training facilitators for pastoral planning, said Father Girres. He acknowledged the next steps will be challenging, but “I also hope energizing for the local church.”
“There will be a time of grief and loss for many people in our diocese,” said Father Girres. “We need to acknowledge and face that grief and not ignore the difficulty of losing one’s home parish. Yet out of all this change and loss there is an opportunity for new life. The new clusters will give people a greater opportunity to work together, share resources, develop new programs, reach out to non-practicing Catholics and the like. I pray that we don’t squander this opportunity.”