By RENEE WEBB
Last February a draft parish pastoral plan was unveiled in the Diocese of Sioux City and now, after much feedback and study, a final plan has been announced.
According to Father Brent Lingle, diocesan director of pastoral planning, when Ministry 2025 was originally published, they did so as a draft and anticipated changes would be made.
“Based on obtaining feedback from various levels and groups of people, we thought it would ultimately change what the map looked like and it did,” he said.
Despite changes, many things in the draft proposal were kept in the final plan. The draft plan moved the diocese from six deaneries to four and the final plan does too. The updated plan has 31 clusters and nine Hispanic ministry associations, as did the draft.
Father Lingle noted they worked to establish 31 clusters based on the fact that by 2025 there will be just about 31 priests available to serve as pastors, with some clusters having an associate or two.
“We knew that before we ever rolled out the draft plan last February,” he said. “That number has remained consistent and we didn’t anticipate that number to change drastically one way or another. In the midst of receiving all of the feedback and suggestions that is one thing we couldn’t change. It takes a long time to form priests and pastors so we will be locked into that number for the foreseeable future.”
Decline in the availability of priests is one of the primary reasons the diocese began the Ministry 2025 pastoral planning process as well as previous long-range planning projects.
The main purpose of Ministry 2025 is to use limited priestly resources as wisely as possible while creating and sustaining vibrant parishes. The process has been guided by a pastoral planning committee and the help of the consulting firm TeamWorks International, Inc.
Father Lingle explained that while 31 clusters remain, the configuration of the parish clusters has changed in the final plan based on feedback. The number of parishes has also changed, dropping to 61 parishes compared to 67 in the draft. However, he noted, the number of worship sites will increase to 20.
With worship sites, he explained, the parish is technically closed but the building is still open for Sunday Mass and the sacraments. It is different from an oratory where the parish is suppressed and it no longer has Sunday Mass.
“There are less parishes with this plan because of the way we configured some, especially Carroll County,” Father Lingle said. “Taking all of the feedback we received from the Carroll area, it made sense for us to employ models like we have in Webster County and the Le Mars area – the one parish model that streamlines administration and aligns with the Catholic school system.”
Presently, Carroll County has 14 parishes. In this new plan, six of them are proposed to go to oratory status and eight churches will be designated as worship sites for one parish.
He acknowledged the most significant changes in this final plan are in Carroll County. With the one-parish model, several changes were made to cluster configurations in the area. Changes will also impact what buildings remain open for Sunday worship.
In the Carroll area, parishes in Glidden and Dedham had originally been slated for oratory status in the draft plan but now will remain open as worship sites. On the other hand, parishes in Auburn and Coon Rapids were supposed to remain open but now are slated for oratory status.
Other parts of the diocese also experienced change based on feedback. The parishes in Ledyard and Holstein will now remain open and Ashton, which had been slated for oratory status will become a worship site. The draft plan slated 40 parishes/church buildings for oratory status and with the final one there are 38.
“The changes are due to feedback from deanery meetings and subsequent meetings. The reasons all differed in one way, shape or form – but they were all for compelling reasons,” Father Lingle said.
For instance, he noted with Ledyard they discovered some parishes had closed in the Archdiocese of Dubuque and Diocese of Winona that left a large region without a priest or pastor.
“Some changes were related to school systems, some were geography and others were based on demographics,” Father Lingle said.
While the diocese had originally planned for all or most of the changes to take place this summer, in some areas it will take a little more time.
“The majority of the proposed clusters will happen this summer, but five to six of the proposed clusters will be phased in over the next few years based on retirements and personnel moves,” Father Lingle said.
Personnel changes are still being evaluated by the Priests Personnel Board and that will impact the timing of when the plan unfolds.
“Some parts of the plan might not happen until 2021,” noted Father Lingle, who added that the timing of when parishes go to oratory status will also depend on priest personnel.
He pointed out priests were informed of the redesigned updated plan back in October and since that time, the Priests Personnel Board has been working to make the best possible pastoral assignments.
Msgr. Kevin McCoy, vicar general who serves on the Priests Personnel Board, said that while Ministry 2025 is not solely predicted on priest personnel, it does impact the pastoral planning effort.
In regard to the timeline for assigning priest personnel across the diocese, the vicar general said the board must take into consideration what priests are reaching retirement age over the course of the next 10 years.
“This factor may be influenced by an individual priest’s decision to remain in active ministry beyond retirement age, but the fact remains that he will age out of active service at some point in time,” Msgr. McCoy said. “Planning based upon the anticipated retirement age of the priests is a reasonable assumption; it allows for things to be tweaked as assignments are made. Still, regardless of retirements, our active priests all have a variety of skills and the board must also take into consideration a particular priest’s comfort level with any new assignment.”
For example, a priest who speaks Spanish will most likely be assigned to a cluster with that need. And in some cases, he noted, a priest’s well-being may be better served if cluster parishes are rural rather than urban.
“But again, if a priest who is retiring and is currently serving in a cluster requiring Spanish language skills, the board is limited as to what priests can be considered for assignment to that cluster,” Msgr. McCoy said. “Our priests are generous in sharing their talents, but the process of assigning priests attempts to assure their happiness and success in any given ministerial assignment inasmuch as this most likely also correlates to good care for his parishioners.”
Taking into consideration retirements, priest personnel and proposed changes, Father Lingle noted making the priest assignments is a complex task.
“This will be a year where we will have more moves than we are accustomed to – based on setting things up for the pastoral plan to go into effect,” he said. “The idea is that we make priest moves now, this summer, so people will move into these new clusters and start at the ground level versus having one priest design a plan and implement it for six months to a year and then he moves out.”
Timing of implementation of various parts of the plan could also be impacted by unexpected priest illnesses or other factors. Father Lingle mentioned some parts of the plan were implemented early last summer due to personnel.
“The next phase is for parish clusters to work on their own three-year pastoral plan,” Father Lingle said. “The cluster leaders will work together on designing ministry – Mass times, ministries, staff – all of those things that will help meet the goals of Ministry 2025.”
When parish clusters begin to meet and develop their pastoral plan, he anticipates individuals who participated in the deanery meetings that sought cluster feedback will be part of the leadership group.
“People that were involved from the ground level will continue to help move the plan forward,” said Father Lingle.
As clusters take part in planning, he said they will follow a “guided process” with a trained facilitator to walk them through the steps needed to create the most effective plan. A pastoral planning guidebook from TeamWorks will also be used to guide the process. The discussions in the parish clusters could lead to further modification of the design of Ministry 2025.
Individuals – lay and possibly clergy – will be recruited to serve as facilitators. These volunteers will take part in a facilitator training session to be held later this winter. The facilitators will not guide the process in their own clusters.
“Once the facilitators are trained, over the course of the rest of the winter and spring, the parish clusters will work on designing their pastoral plan,” said Father Lingle, who noted the plans will be submitted to Bishop Walker Nickless by early summer. Implementation of those cluster plans are expected to begin this summer.
Why need for plan
With the assistance of TeamWorks, Msgr. McCoy noted the diocese has been studying the shifting demographics and other factors influencing parishes and schools. These factors impact various parts of society such as school consolidations, businesses and services such as medical clinics and hospitals.
On the positive side, Father Lingle said society as a whole is much more mobile. When many of the parishes were first established, parishioners traveled there on horse and buggy. Plus, he added, people have grown accustomed to traveling to bigger cities for shopping and other resources.
“Our Catholic population is not only shifting across the diocese, but it is increasing in diversity and aging,” said Msgr. McCoy, who noted the number of households in the diocese decreased by 7.5 percent from 2008 to 2015. “So to achieve a healthy and vibrant diocese, parishes and clergy, how we attend to the pastoral needs of the Catholics across the 24 counties of Northwest Iowa had to be examined and planned if these needs are to be met as the number of active priests decline over the course of the next 10 years.”
Change, noted Father Lingle, especially losing parishes is not easy. But to do nothing was not an option. Rather than pouring energy into maintaining buildings, the vision of Ministry 2025 is to use resources wisely to create vibrant parishes and ease the workload of priests.
“It’s the idea that while the buildings are important symbols of our faith, when it comes down to ministry, advancing evangelization and the proclamation of the Gospel, we have to look at the resources we have and how to best utilize those resources,” he said.