Volunteers survey key demographics to ‘paint a picture’ on state of the Archdiocese
Detroit — It’s a goal that puts high expectations on the Church’s evangelization initiative: “To change the very DNA of the Church in Detroit.”
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron doesn’t mince words about what he wants from the year-and-a-half-long examination of all the archdiocese does for the 1.3 million Catholics in southeast Michigan.
The evangelization initiative — renamed “Unleash the Gospel” in December along with a corresponding social media hashtag, #ResurgetDetroit — was launched in May 2015 as a way to prepare the faithful for the ongoing work of growing the local Church, culminating in a synod in November 2016.
To prepare the way, four teams of clergy and laypeople have been hard at work gathering information and laying the groundwork for a successful synod and beyond.
The committees — focused on clergy, prayer, ecclesial ministry and family life — are using the time between now and November to gain a fuller picture of what’s happening in the archdiocese in order to present to the synod leadership.
“We are assessing the needs of families; getting them to the point where they’re reflections of the Mother Church,” said Marian Bart, catechetical coordinator at St. Anastasia Parish in Troy and chair of the family committee.
To do that, Bart said, the committee has conducted focus groups made of up families of different ages, sizes and lifestyles in an attempt to accurately reflect the diversity of families found in the pews on Sunday. The groups were asked a series of questions about how the Church is reaching out to families, and the results will be compiled and presented to synod organizers.
“Our job now is to listen to our families, we want to put them in a place where they have a voice in the Church,” Bart said. “We’re telling them what the Mother Church says your role is, but we want to see if that’s really the case.”
Assessment is a key part in painting a picture of what’s really going on in the archdiocese in order for the synod to discern where the Holy Spirit is calling the Church to go, said Chris Leach, head of the ecclesial committee, which is examining the role of lay ministers in the work of evangelization.
“Our goal is not to make recommendations, but paint a picture of how things are,” Leach said. “We’ve hosted listening tables at events, just getting open-ended feedback from leaders across the archdiocese. We’re not to decide the direction we need to go, but there are some board-picture questions we want to ask at the synod, and we need to understand what those questions are.”
Leach said the committee’s goal isn’t necessarily to assess the effectiveness of lay ministers, but to gather information.
“We’re looking at what ecclesial ministers do in their current jobs, how they see themselves as members of the New Evangelization, and how the New Evangelization has been talked about in the Archdiocese of Detroit,” Leach said.
The clergy committee, chaired by Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny, pastor of St. Paul of the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms, has been surveying priests and deacons about the evangelization initiative, reinforcing the critical role they play in transforming their parishes.
“We asked our priests and deacons a lot about their age, when they were ordained, the nature of their assignments and assessment of the audiences they were preaching to,” Msgr. Halfpenny said. “We asked them to rank different aspects of the New Evangelization in order of importance, to see what each individual parish was doing.”
Msgr. Halfpenny said the results were all over the place — each as diverse as the parishes themselves — but said the committee plays a vital role as a link between Church leadership and the laity.
“The clergy has an important role in all of this,” Msgr. Halfpenny said. “There’s a great need for communication with the laity. People are concerned that this will be just another program; they’re looking for a ‘change in the DNA in the Body of Christ in Detroit.’ Being the missionary Church, we need to make sure every priest, deacon and religious person sees themselves as a missionary.”
While others are focusing on the role of specific groups in the evangelization initiative, Sacred Heart Major Seminary professor Fr. Robert Spezia and the prayer committee see themselves as the “covering force” for the other committees and the main force behind all things the Church does: prayer.
“We’re less tied to the evangelization initiative, but more so with the synod,” Fr. Spezia said. “Our charge is to keep an eye on the synod, reactivating parish prayer teams and telling everyone to keep praying for the synod.”
Fr. Spezia said there is great power in a religious community praying together, showing solidarity for the work of God and supporting those assigned to the task of transforming the Church’s missionary mindset.
“We’re the Air Force, protecting the troops on the ground. The other committees are on the ground, doing different things,” Fr. Spezia said. “When I think of our committee, my thoughts go to our Lord’s words: ‘Where there are two are more gathered in my name, I’m there.’ There is a sense of solidarity, but it’s what Jesus counseled us to do. He is present when we pray together; he is with us.”
Unleash the Gospel
To learn more about the Archdiocese of Detroit’s “Unleash the Gospel” initiative, including the upcoming synod, visit aod.org/unleash.