Bishop Jeff Haines

Along with hundreds of other pastoral ministers of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I was fortunate to attend a convention called The Amazing Parish from Oct. 17-19 at the Wisconsin Center. The purpose of the convention was to promote the renewal of parish life, which was one of the top priorities to emerge from the Archdiocesan Synod held on Pentecost weekend in 2014. Originally designated by the terms “Mission and Leadership,” the priority was meant to set the goal of transforming the focus of parish ministry from maintenance to mission.

Since I am not only an auxiliary bishop but also a pastor (at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist), I particularly was interested in seeing what I could learn from the presentations and exercises shared at the Amazing Parish Conference. There was additional motivation to pursue the goal of the conference, because – truth be told – I primarily was trained in the leadership model of parish maintenance.

In the days of old, parish life was such that there was not much need to do anything but help the congregation “stay the course.” In this era, parishes tended to be rather sizeable, with large schools, a multiplicity of committees and organizations, and plenty of volunteers to fill them. Most parishes were like “well-oiled machines,” and the efforts of pastors were to keep the parts lubricated and humming. In recent times, however, things have changed significantly. Such factors as lower birth rates for Catholic families and societal trends toward secularization have diminished the size and scope of congregations. Now, it is not enough for a parish to look inward. Pastors and parish directors need to help the faithful begin to look outward promoting evangelization and the welcoming of new members.

One of the blessings of the conference was the fact that the three building blocks of an Amazing Parish proposed were consistent with the three priorities which Archbishop Jerome Listecki listed for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee upon his arrival here. The building blocks of an Amazing Parish are 1) a reliance on prayer and sacraments, 2) a passion for evangelization and discipleship and 3) a commitment to a healthy organization; they synchronize well with the Archbishop’s focus on 1) Catholic Identity, 2) Evangelization and 3) Stewardship. Both emphasize well the foundational elements of a Catholic community: 1) Who we are, 2) What we do and 3) How we do it.

One of the components which Amazing Parish emphasizes as vital to the development of a healthy organization in a congregation is the creation of a Parish Leadership Team. The Leadership Team is comprised of a small number of advisors (i.e., three to four persons) who will support and assist a pastor or parish director in the governance of the congregation. Team members are to serve as advisors and animators who help empower more effective leadership. The development of such an entity is a recognition that the operation of a parish or cluster of parishes has become much more complex. No pastor or parish director likely has the breadth of gifts or skills needed to provide complete guidance to a faith community. Amazing Parish identifies five behaviors essential to a Leadership Team: 1) Building trust (especially through shared prayer), 2) Mastering conflict, 3) Achieving Commitment (towards clarity and closure), 4) Embracing accountability (confronting difficult issues), and 5) Focusing on results (collective outcomes). Ideally, the Leadership Team will meet on a weekly basis, or more, to create a spiritual bond that fosters an environment for bold conversations.

It is important to note that the Leadership Team does not take the place of other consultative bodies of a parish. The Parish Pastoral Council will continue to set the mission and vision for the faith community, the Parish Finance Council will continue to provide financial oversight and the Pastoral Staff will continue to implement the goals and objectives set for the congregation.

I look forward to the opportunity of working with a Leadership Team at my parish. The small size and the expectation of regular meetings should bring the benefit of being able to gather the group more swiftly to deal with unexpected, pressing issues. One of the admonitions related to a Leadership Team also stipulates that it always pursues the greater good of the entire parish and does not favor any particular ministry more than others.

Now, I am enough of a realist to know that fulfilling the expectations of the Amazing Parish Conference will not be easy or swift. As with much of life, change often comes about slowly. But, I am extremely hopeful that the Holy Spirit will ignite sparks of renewal in the parish life of our archdiocese. Over time, if we pastors and parish directors are loyal and faithful to the lessons we learned at the conference, I truly believe our mission can be transformed to better suit the needs of our time. And, in its own way, that would be something quite amazing.