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Parish and Personnel Task Force Outlines Process
Mission Statement: The Mission of the Parish and Personnel Task Force is to provide recommendations to the Bishop, in consultation with the faithful, to care for the sacramental, pastoral, spiritual and administrative needs of the Diocese of Gaylord. Throughout the country, dioceses are facing the reality of an aging clergy and a decline in men and women accepting the call to religious or priestly vocations. In 2003, Bishop Patrick R. Cooney released statistics for the Diocese of Gaylord and invited parishioners to share their ideas and suggestions. Five years later, the concerns remain valid. Current projections indicate that by the year 2010, the Diocese of Gaylord will have approximately 30 active diocesan priests to care for the sacramental needs of the faithful in our 81 parishes. In late October of 2006, Bishop Cooney announced that he had appointed Fr. Frank Murphy, Vicar General of the diocese, to select members and chair a committee to make recommendations for the future. Among the most important criteria for committee members was to be dedicated to the process and to work with a vision for the common good of all in the diocese. Fr. Murphy consulted with leadership throughout the area and interviewed potential candidates before naming them to serve. Im really pleased with the people on the committee, Fr. Murphy said. There is a good balance and each person brings special experience and expertise to the table. They have been working hard to seek solutions to benefit the whole of the diocese. Now known as the Parish and Personnel Task Force, committee members travel to Gaylord bi-weekly most months to continue their work. Kathy Lame, a professional mediator and member of St. Mary parish in Charlevoix, facilitates the groups meetings and helps keep efforts focused. The first goal of the group was to present short term recommendations to Bishop Cooney. That task was completed last spring. The past year has been spent preparing a process to receive significant parish input to the committee as it takes on the long term goal to provide recommendations to the Bishop as to how best to minister to the needs of the people in northern lower Michigan with the resources that are available. It is a greater challenge than simply matching available clergy with parishes. Of course providing sacramental care is of paramount concern, but there are other important issues as well, Candace Neff, spokesperson for the Task Force stated. Bishop Cooney has asked that the committee look at what it means to be the Catholic church in northern lower Michigan. What is the overall mission of the church? How do we provide and sustain faith development programs, outreach ministries, and social justice initiatives? What other influences are impacting the Church in our area? In addition to the priest shortage, the rural nature of the Diocese of Gaylord, with its large territory and general demographics, as well as the economic situation, have all had an impact on the Church in northern lower Michigan. It has been clear for some time that the days when each parish would have their own resident priest are past. "Basically, it means we are all going to have to pull ourselves away from the traditional paradigms, think creatively and work together," Neff said. The Diocese of Gaylord encompasses over 11,000 square miles with 81 parishes and 17 Catholic schools. Only 25 of those parishes currently are a single parish with their own Pastor or a priest serving as the administrator; 49 parishes in the diocese share a Pastor. Three more parishes are cared for by a Parish Life Coordinator with two additional parishes in the care of a lay administrator. These five parishes rely on a sacramental minister to provide sacramental care, often a retired priest or a priest from a neighboring parish. Two parishes recently experienced the loss of their pastor and sacramental care is being provided through local retired priests filling in. Four parishes currently do not have weekend masses. While it is clear there will be no easy answers and ultimately every parish will be affected in some way, Bishop Cooney has repeatedly cautioned the committee that closing parishes must be a last resort. Historically, the closing of a parish in a community also often means the loss of a Catholic presence in that community, Bishop Cooney said I hope we can find ways to maintain our Catholic presence and ministry to the local communities. I am looking to the Task Force to provide some new thinking and fresh ideas. "In a perfect world, no parish would close," Bishop Cooney said, "But Im old enough now to know that we dont live in a perfect world and it may be necessary." The Second Vatican Council affirmed that each of us, through our Baptism, are called to minister as disciples of the Lord. It is the responsibility of all Catholics to hand on their faith. The Task Force wants to include parishioners and local leadership in the process, said Neff. They are the ones who possess the most know-ledge of the ministries and concerns of the local church and communities. This month, the Task Force met with priests, deacons and parish administrators to discuss the planned process. In May and June, the Task Force will host gatherings specifically for parish Pastoral and Finance Council members. Then in the fall, the Task Force plans to host numerous town hall type meetings for parishioners. Each session will be facilitated to provide current information and an opportunity for individuals to share their ideas and concerns. This input, along with information gathered through a parish and school self-evaluation which has been developed, will all be considered by the Task Force when preparing their recommendations for the Bishop. A lot of the work this year has been more behind the scenes, noted Neff. The Task Force has been preparing for these next steps and is hoping for good participation in the various meetings so ultimately everyone has an opportunity to be included. Only then will they have a complete picture of the diocese.