IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH
Summary of the Diocese of Lansing Realign Resources for Mission (RRM) meeting
December 17, 2020 via Zoom
Presenters: Father Jim Rolph, Chaplain, Powers High School, Flint
Deb Amato, Chief of Staff, Diocese of Lansing
The purpose of tonight’s meeting is to share information with the Immaculate Conception parish about the Realign Resources for Mission (RRM) project:
- Why the Bishop initiated RRM.
- The four principles guiding the RRM committee.
- Time for reflection on the process.
- Collecting feedback from parishioners via an online survey.
The presenters emphasized that the RRM Committee has made no decisions regarding recommendations to be put forth to the Bishop. Tonight’s meeting is part of the overall process. The Bishop has instructed the committee to consult with parishioners throughout the Diocese.
Bishop Boyea described concerns about the current state of the diocese. Priests are often isolated, see declining resources, and have no time for creative work given the demands of daily parish responsibilities. Parish staff are often overworked, underpaid and understaffed. Lay people have a desire to grow spiritually but there may not be ways in all parishes to equip or support this desire. The Bishop restated the mission of Catholics in the Diocese of Lansing from Matthew 28:19: “make disciples of all nations.” Parishes need vision, structure and leadership to achieve this mission. The RRM Committee is charged with studying the current state of the Diocese and making recommendations to the Bishop next spring.
The presenters began with vital statistics. In 2001, average attendance at Sunday Mass in the Diocese was 93,019. By 2019 that number had declined 37% to 58,396. First Communions have declined 56%, baptisms are down 54%, RCIA participants have declined 70% and there were 55% fewer marriages in 2019 than in 2001. There are 72 parishes in the Diocese and 94 active priests. Thirty two (32) of those priests will be eligible for senior priest status by 2026. While the Diocese is blessed to have 30 seminarians currently, that is still not enough to meet the needs of all 72 parishes going forward.
The RRM committee bases their work on hope: God has a plan for us even in difficult times.
RRM is a strategic planning process that began in 2018 with a recognition that we need to better realign our human and other resources to better position the church to serve its people. The committee has analyzed five years of parish data, looked at the results of the Disciple Maker Index survey, the Key Leader survey and the Called for More survey of diocesan priests. The committee has consulted with other dioceses around the country and interviewed experts in church renewal and growth.
The RRM committee is chaired by Father Mathias Thelen, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Brighton. Father Thelen pointed out that to be successful it is not enough to just restructure the diocese, we must form cultures that buoy up the mission. He noted that declining demographics are an occasion to restructure the diocese but are not the core problem. Structural change is not enough. Cultural change requires sustained and effective leadership. Structures should serve the mission, not the other way around.
Deb Amato and Father Rolph presented the four principles guiding the RRM committee’s work. A health parish
- Is led by healthy, happy, holy priests.
- Equips and empowers staff to carry out their roles.
- Makes and forms missionary disciples of its parishioners.
- Seeks the lost and serves the poor.
Principle 1: A healthy parish is led by priests striving for health and holiness.
- Priests support one another.
- Priests live in community, even if not in the same rectory.
- Multiple priests serve one parish together.
- There is ongoing formation, mentoring and coaching for clergy.
- Priests are unified with and accountable to the Bishop.
- Each pastor has charisma of leadership and works with a leadership team.
- Priests operate out of their particular charism and particular gifts.
Principle 2: A healthy parish equips and empowers staff.
- The parish hires the best and most competent people.
- Every critical ministry has a competent leader.
- There is sufficient staff to fulfill the parish mission.
- Staff are paid competitively.
- Staff are a healthy team, aligned to the mission and vision of the parish.
- Staff have ongoing formation, coaching and mentoring.
The RRM committee has identified the need to get more young people involved as a top area for growth. Yet, of 72 parishes, only 8 have a full time paid youth minister. Twenty nine (29) have a part time paid youth minister. Only 1 parish has a full time marriage coordinator on staff, although many deacons serve in this role. Many parishes are understaffed and staff do not always know what the overall vision and plan is for the parish.
Principle 3: a healthy parish makes and forms missionary disciples.
- There is a need to increase access to the sacraments and devotions.
- Sacred worship is prayerful, reverent, beautiful and powerful.
- Parishes have a discipleship process that moves people to spiritual maturity.
- There is a process for getting people serving others according to their gifts.
- There is vibrant community life.
- There is a commitment to Catholic education.
The RRM committee has reviewed the results of the Disciple Maker Index survey from early 2020. Nearly 70% of parishioners never or almost never share their personal witness story with another person. In our current environment we are conditioned to keep our faith quiet (i.e., don’t talk about religion or politics). The basis for evangelization is discipleship. You talk about what you love. Our reticence to share the gospel comes from the public square. We need to make it more visible. By missionary disciple, we mean someone who is more that a “consumer Catholic.” I take what is given me and use my gifts and talents to bring about transformation in the church.
Principle 4: A healthy parish seeks the lost and serves the poor (get out of the building and go out to the community.)
- There is a process to evangelize the local community.
- Spiritual and corporal works of mercy are prioritized.
- There is a shared responsibility by all members for the mission of seeking the lost and serving the poor.
- Parishes are invested and recognized in their community as “salt, light and leaven.”
- There are easy and accessible entry points for unbelievers to encounter Christ. We welcome the stranger.
The RRM committee recognizes, based on the DMI survey, that we are not evangelizing. There is an increase in the “nones”, that is, people who answer they have no religious affiliation. In Michigan, 24% of people are “nones” and only 18% are Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center. “Nones” are the fastest growing category, and particularly among young people. Our job as Catholics is to go find the lost and serve them in spirit, go find the poor and address their needs. The answer to this challenge is the hope we find in Christ but we can’t share what we don’t know and we can’t give what we don’t have.
The next five steps to be taken by the RRM Committee:
- Gather and evaluate feedback from parish meetings such as this one.
- Continue to work toward multiple models of restructuring.
- Present these models to the priests of the Diocese in the first quarter of 2021.
- Return to each parish to present these models and seek additional feedback from parishioners.
- Present final recommendations to Bishop Boyea around Easter, 2021.
Watch a video of the meeting: If you would like to watch a recording of the 12/17/2020 presentation, click on the link below and enter the access code. The link is also posted on the parish website (iccmilan.com)
Access code: uCJ5^e*X
Give feedback to the RRM Committee: All parishioners are invited to give feedback to the RRM Committee using an online survey. Click on the link below and submit your feedback before January 6, 2021. The link is also posted on the parish website.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Also see: https://www.dioceseoflansing.org/realign-resources-for-mission
- What is the Realign Resources for Mission process?
In the Fall of 2019, Bishop Earl Boyea established a new 14-member committee to review how the resources of the Diocese of Lansing can be best used to better evangelize the 1.8 million people who live within the bounds of the diocese.
“This Committee for the Realign of Resources for Mission in our diocese was really established in order to plan for the future. Where are we going? How are we going to evangelize in our area?” said Bishop Boyea upon the committee’s launch.
“How are we going to strengthen the faith of those who are members of the household of faith? How are we going to try to win back those who have wandered away? And how do we bring in new members to the Church? How do we make Jesus Christ more present in our 10county diocese?”
Bishop Boyea’s decision to establish the committee was informed by a range of statistical evidence which shows decline across the diocese over the past few decades including an increasingly unsustainable drop in the number of priests. Hence, the status quo is no longer an option.
The membership of the committee includes priests, deacons, and lay men and women from across the diocese who were nominated by the presbyterate and diocesan staff. Overseeing the process is Father Mathias Thelen, the Pastor of Saint Patrick’s in Brighton, who was asked by the bishop to chair the committee.
In his commissioning letter to the members of the committee, Bishop Boyea encouraged the committee to be “bold and innovative in exploring ideas for renewal and growth” and urged them to “envision a diocese with parishes that are fully alive communities of missionary disciples, with a vibrant sacramental life, where everyone can encounter Jesus Christ, most especially in the Eucharist.”
- How has the committee gone about its work so far?
Primarily they have prayed, discussed and discerned. The discernment has been informed by an incredible amount of data which they have gathered over the past year. They have:
- Analyzed five years of parish data such as financial, sacramental, demographic statistics using MapDash for Faith Communities while the consulting firm, Veracruz, have helped to analyze our Catholic schools.
- Surveyed over 20,000 parishioners via the Disciple Maker Index; over 400 key parish figures via Key Parish Leader survey; and 71 clergy via the Called for More Priest Preferences and Passions Survey.
- Consulted with other many dioceses around the country and beyond who are engaged in restructuring.
- Interviewed many experts specializing in Church renewal and growth: Catholic Leadership Institute; Amazing Parish; Divine Renovation; Acts XXIX.
- And now they are conducting parish visits across the diocese in order to explain the Realign Resources for Mission vision and to elicit feedback from parishioners in each locality.
- So, this is all about managing decline?
No. While demography and decline are the pretext to restructure, both Bishop Boyea and the Realign Resources for Mission Committee would propose that is not our core problem. Our core problem is, too often, being insufficiently on mission. What is more, they have found that mere structural change will not be enough to get parishes more on mission. Instead, a change in parish culture is required. Cultural change, though, is hard and requires sustained and effective leadership by a pastor working collaboratively with others.
The data has also found that too many priests and parishioners are currently not thriving. Too often, disciples are not being made while priests are tired and isolated. Hence, structures should serve our mission, not the other way around even though we can all be tempted to conserve structures that are no longer fit-for-mission.
Managing decline would mean we’ve accepted that our current trajectory is unchanging and that there is no hope for growth in the future. This is certainly not the case! We have a founded hope that real growth is possible if we’re willing to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this new springtime of the Church.
This process of pastoral planning is not primarily about simply observing trends, but being aware of them so we can disrupt them and bring about a change in direction. For instance, our total number of priests is on a downward trajectory, but rather than simply continuing on this trajectory we can choose to put an emphasis on priestly vocations, seminary formation, and creating cultures of discipleship so that this trend can be reversed.
- How would you describe our mission?
The mission given to us by Jesus Christ is “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19). In the Diocese of Lansing, this distils into a mission statement which tells us we exist to “form communities of missionary disciples who go and announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.
Why does this matter? Well, as Bishop Boyea says: “In the person of Jesus Christ, we introduce our family and friends to the deepest happiness, meaning and peace that this life can offer. We also help them get to Heaven in the next. Our earthly existence has no greater purpose.”
- Why are these Parish Visits happening now so far into the process?
The Realign Resources for Mission Committee has been meeting since the fall of 2019 and had set up parish meetings at every parish which were scheduled to happen in April of 2020. Because of COVID those meetings were not able to be held. These meetings are being held now because the committee truly does value your insight, input, and ideas.
- What’s the vision for moving forward?
Having done all of this, the Committee and Bishop Boyea have come to the fourfold conclusion that a healthy parish in the Diocese of Lansing:
- Is led by priests who are striving for health and holiness: This includes priests living in community, even if not in the same rectory; Multiple priests serving one parish together; a pastor who has the charism of leadership and has a parish leadership team; while other priests operate out of their particular charisms and gifts too.
- Equips and empowers parish staff; This would see parishes hiring the best and most competent people; every defined critical ministry and role in a parish having a
competent leader; parishes having sufficient staff to fulfill the mission; and those staff are paid competitively.
- Makes and forms missionary disciples: This would see parishes provide a much greater access to the sacraments and devotions than at present; Sacred Worship that is prayerful, reverent, beautiful and powerful; a discipleship process that moves people to spiritual maturity; and a strong commitment to Catholic education.
- Seeks the lost and serves the poor: This fourth principle would see parishes have designated processes to evangelize their local community; they would prioritize spiritual and corporal works of mercy in those communities; they would be recognizable in their local community as salt, light, and leaven; and they would offer shallow entry points for unbelievers to encounter Jesus Christ.
- So, if priests live in community, will my parish have a resident priest?
As we look at new models we’ve discerned that it would be best for priests to live in community. This may include priests living in the same rectory at the same worship site, but it may mean priests serving in the same parish, working at different worship sites, and committing to communal life together (prayer, meals, etc.). It will depend on the parish and the priests’ preferences.
- Are we going to lose our priest?
It is certainly possible that priests will be moved from their current assignment. Priests will be asked what their preferences are regarding parish assignments. We believe we have many amazing priests in the Diocese and want to put them in positions where they can flourish and the faithful can flourish with them.
- Will my local church close?
The most evident solution to this realignment is that current parishes will be merged into larger parish structures but, crucially, that does not necessarily mean that your local church will close. Under these new parish structures, it is very possible that the parish would maintain multiple worship sites in order to accommodate parishioners and better evangelize through access to the sacraments.
- Will I have to drive far in order to get to Sunday Mass or parish events?
The Realign Resources for Mission Committee will seek to ensure that nobody in the Diocese of Lansing is more than a 20-minute drive from a Catholic church. That’s the ambition.
- If my parish is merged, what happens to our assets such as money in the bank? Does that go to the diocese?
Assets and money from a parish follow the people. The Diocese does not take assets and money from a merged or closed parish.
- At the end of the day, what difference would I notice from being a parishioner in one of these new parishes?
The goal of this realignment is to enable parishes to become a dynamic Catholic community that informs and inspires you to grow in personal holiness and enables you to fulfill your mission as a Christian disciple and, ultimately, to get to heaven. At the end of the day our goal is that you would be reinvigorated with hope, growing in your faith, and ready to give in love alongside a whole community of missionary disciples.
- When will all of this go into effect?
The Committee will submit its recommendations to Bishop Boyea in April 2021. The Bishop will then decide which option best fits the mission and work out a timescale for implementation in consultation with others. So, no, there’s not a timescale yet.
- Will we have a say on the final plans for our area?
Yes. This initial parish meeting is primarily to talk about the Realign Resources for Mission vision and to offer the opportunity for the Committee to receive your feedback to incorporate into concrete proposals. The Committee will then return with those specific plans and seek further input at some point early next year. So, yes, you will have a say on final plans.
- What if I don’t like the final proposal?
The Realign Resources for Mission Committee fully shares many people’s attachment to our present parishes which, for many of us, have sustained our families in the Catholic faith over many generations. However, they are also operating under the assumption that the people of the Diocese of Lansing are first and foremost members of the Body of Christ. Each of those members belongs to a specific parish, but that is secondary to their allegiance to Christ and His Church. As we move forward with any realignment we know that you are an integral part of the Body of Christ and desire to incorporate your specific gifts and talents into the mission of the Diocese. This may require sacrificing a connection to a specific parish, building, or structure.
- Who are the members of the Realign Resources for Mission Committee?
The 14 members are: Tom Maloney, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Lansing;
George Landolt, Chief Finance Officer, Diocese of Lansing; Stephen Nowaczewski, Saint Joseph, Ypsilanti; Father Steve Mattson, Pastor, Church of the Resurrection, Lansing;
Deacon Devon Wolfe, Saint Mary Magdalen, Brighton; Father Bob Bacik, Pastor, Saint
Isidore, Laingsburg and Holy Family, Ovid; Pete Burak, Christ the King Parish, Ann Arbor;
Teresa Witt, Saint Robert, Flushing; Father Jim Rolph, Chaplain, Powers High School, Flint;
Abby Walls, Saint Mary, Pinckney; Father Mathias Thelen (Chair), Pastor, St Patrick, Brighton; Deborah Amato, Chief of Staff, Diocese of Lansing; Father Chas Canoy, Pastor, Saint John the Evangelist, Jackson; David Kerr, Director of Communications, Diocese of Lansing.