Change coming for archdiocese; ‘Together In Faith’ planning process seeks best use of resources

Gayle Koyton, a member of a parish planning group from Good Shepherd Parish in Detroit, gives a testimony about the Together In Faith process and how it is affecting her area of the local Church. Koyton was among three parish representatives who took part in a public briefing on the Together In Faith process on Oct. 26. | Photo by Larry A. Peplin

Detroit – A new pastoral plan to meet the needs of the Catholic faithful in southeast Michigan should be ready for release sometime in early 2012, the Archdiocese of Detroit announced at an Oct. 26 news conference.

As Phase II of the Together in Faith planning process heads into its final stages, Archbishop Allen Vigneron and several others involved in it gave an update on what has been done and what remains to be done as some 1,500 lay people meeting in local planning groups, plus the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and archdiocesan officials seek to make the best use of the personnel, financial resources and facilities of the Catholic Church in the six counties of the archdiocese.

“The events of 2008 and 2009 brought real changes to our community,” said Edward J. “Chip” Miller, chairman of the APC, explaining why Archbishop Vigneron had asked last year for the 2006 pastoral plan generated by Phase I of TIF be “refreshed.”

Parishes throughout the archdiocese were called upon to send representatives to one of the 40 planning groups formed to consider the key issues of collaboration and cooperation as they looked to the future.

Those planning groups have sent their proposed plans to the APC, which is considering them and, as needed, seeking clarifications or additional data. The proposals will then go to Archbishop Vigneron, who will then seek comments from other archdiocesan consultative bodies before making any decisions.

Miller said the proposed solutions put forward by the planning groups “have been shaped through the use of data,” explaining that participants have had economic data and housing data, as well as data — both sacramental  and financial — on each parish to work with.

With that data in hand, the planning groups have worked to develop a plan that addresses the five key mission priorities that guided TIF-I, as well as two additional priorities added by Archbishop Vigneron for TIF-II.

The original mission priorities from Phase I were Evangelization and Catechesis; Christian Service and Outreach; Youth and young Adults; Lay Leadership; and Stewardship and Administration.

To those, Archbishop Vigneron asked that Catholic Schools and Vocations be added.

The APC has provided feedback that is “fact-based and detailed,” and the planning groups are currently working on their responses, Miller continued.

He said the APC hopes to deliver the proposals to the archbishop by late November.

Archbishop Vigneron acknowledged that the plan may well involve some difficult decisions, but said nothing had been decided yet.

“Undoubtedly, I will receive some recommendations for some parish clustering and some mergers, with the closure of some worship facilities, but I have no plan in my back pocket,” he said.

The archbishop said he had returned from his time as bishop of Oakland, Calif., a firm believer in the strategic planning process. “Mission is first, obviously, but you can’t do your mission if you can’t pay your bills,” he said.

Speaking to the two mission priorities he had added, Archbishop Vigneron said Catholic schools are “a very focused way to do evangelization and catechesis,” and he expressed his belief that the vocations shortage is not a matter of God not calling enough men to the priesthood or women to the religious life.

“God is calling, but somehow we are not helping those who are being called to hear,” he said.

Archbishop Vigneron noted that the area has undergone profound economic changes, and added, “The economy has a profound effect on the life of the Church.”

Furthermore, he said the number of priests is projected to continue to decline.

The archbishop made it clear that it is not a question of whether change will or will not take place in the archdiocese: “Change will come, but we have the choice of whether we will manage it or simply let it happen.”

The goal, therefore, “is to think about changes, so we can serve God better and more effectively,” he continued.

“It’s not simply a matter of us making our Church strong, but of letting the Holy Spirit make the Church strong,” the archbishop said.

Also taking part in the new conference were three members of the planning groups that have been working on the portions of the overall pastoral plan that affect their areas of the archdiocese – each facing significantly different challenges.

Carol Ann Fausone, a member of St. Thomas à Becket Parish in Canton Township, spoke about the process as it has been conducted in her group, which includes nine parishes in Canton, Northville, Plymouth, Novi and South Lyon.

The area had the fastest growing population in the archdiocese prior to the recession, and although growth is currently stalled, it is expected to resume growing when things pick up again, she said.

“No one is in danger (of closing), but we want to be great stewards,” she said of the group’s efforts to find ways the nine parishes can cooperate for mutual benefit and to prevent duplication of efforts.

Fausone, a retired U.S. Air Force general, showed examples of the highly organized charts the group had devised to make it easy to see which ministries and services are available at the member parishes.

She said the effort has led to multi-parish cooperation on vacation Bible schools djuring the summer, and participation by other parishes in the Alzheimer’s support group at St. John Neumann Parish in Canton Township.

Ray Van Hoeck, a St. John Neumann parishioner who is also a member of the planning group, said Our Lady of Victory Parish in Northville had “invested a lot of resources in Stephen Ministry,” and was now training people from other area parishes to do the work of visiting the sick and homebound.

Gayle Koyton, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Detroit, said the six eastside parishes of her planning group, have worked to share ideas about evangelization and how facilities might be shared.

“For example, two of our parishes have gyms, so that can be good for youth programs,” she said.

Koyton said her parish and St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish had done a lot of door-to-door evangelization work, and St. Charles Borromeo Parish has attracted new people with its Front Porch Bible Ministry – Bible study sessions literally on the front steps of the church.

She said the group has focused on ways they can share resources in order to become stronger, not on which might have to close. “We’re not even on that page,” she said.

Miguel Rubio, a member of Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish in southwest Detroit, said eight of the 11 parishes in his planning group are growing as the area’s Hispanic Catholic population continues to increase.

It is a mostly young population with large families, he said: “If we have 500 people at Mass, 350 are kids.”

But as many newcomers are recent immigrants who are still economically struggling, many of the parishes have full churches, but financial issues when it comes to fixing up the buildings, he explained.

Rubio said three of the parishes do not have religious education programs, so a cooperative effort is under way to fill that gap.

And he said the group is working on ways to encourage more people from other parishes in the group to send their children to the two with elementary schools.

One of the area’s specific needs is for priests who can speak Spanish, and two of the 11 parishes must share a priest. “If the priest doesn’t speak Spanish, people don’t attend Mass,” Rubio said.

Southwest Detroit’s Hispanic Catholic population will likely continue to grow, Rubio predicted. Besides the newcomers who find their way to one of the Hispanic parishes on their own, he said four of the parishes have active evangelization efforts using the Spanish-language version of the Alpha Course.