By Agnieszka Krawczynski
The B.C. Catholic
The Archdiocese of Vancouver has taken a hard look at its efforts and found four things to improve upon. Now those areas have been incorporated into new priorities and goals.
"We started asking ourselves a number of questions: what are our priorities for the archdiocese? What are the needs?" said communications director Paul Schratz.
About one year ago, archdiocesan committees got to work studying their 70-80 existing ministries and outreaches. Then they started talking to priests, religious, and lay people in one-on-one meetings, councils, and focus groups for their ideas.
"We wanted to consult very, very broadly with as many people as possible."
After months of work and heaps of collected feedback, the report, packaged as priorities and goals, has been officially released.
Make every Sunday matter
This priority "was a consensus with almost everyone," said vice-chancellor Barbara Dowding. "We can do better at celebrating the Sunday Eucharist. People complain because they don't understand the homily, or the music is boring. While we don't want to entertain, we want to have substance and beauty."
The report identifies three specific ways to improve the way Sundays are celebrated: effective preaching, beautiful music, and improved hospitality.
Dowding said better homilies are not just something the people in the pews were asking for. "It was pastors who brought it up themselves."
The report brings up practical ways to do this, such as improving public-speaking techniques and finding effective ways to give feedback. It also suggests training to improve music and hospitality.
Get closer to Jesus
Archdiocesan statistics indicate the number of people getting married in the church or still practising the faith years after receiving their first sacraments is decreasing.
The report is about "facing the facts," said Dowding. "We are missing those people we brought in, we welcomed, but we didn't keep. Why aren't we keeping them?"
During consultations, Schratz found "Alpha was unanimously supported by so many people as a great way of introducing that personal relationship." Another successful program is Discovery by Catholic Christian Outreach.
The report promotes these programs and suggests offering retreats, training spiritual directors, and encouraging young Catholics to participate in missions.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program will also get help. "We're taking a fresh look at the RCIA program because we're concerned that there might be some fall-off from people who come into the church at Easter," said Schratz. "There was a lot of honesty among us."
Strengthen marriages and families
The thirst for stronger marriages and families was no surprise for Pavel Reid, the senior director of ministries and outreach in the archdiocese. He was the head of the Life, Marriage, and Family Office before his current position.
"What people told us is what people have been telling us for awhile," Reid said.
Before the priorities were finalized, the Life, Marriage, and Family Office already had staken teps toward achieving its suggestions. It has organized several workshops on parenting, communication, and conflict resolution for families and couples.
"Why have strong families, strong marriages? It's because that makes for better lives for people who are in those relationships, and also better relationships for all the people in those marriages and families, with Christ."
The document suggests the Life, Marriage, and Family Office expand its network of local Catholic counsellors, create programs for people facing separation or divorce, support couples, and add evangelization to marriage preparation.
"What we were hearing from the people lines up exactly with what we were hearing from Rome," Reid said, pointing to Pope Francis's latest exhortation on the family. "It was a nice validation of the work that the Life, Marriage, and Family Office is doing."
Develop parish leadership & support
"The stronger the ability of the parish to manage projects and programs, the more likely it is that the parish is going to be able to do everything else," Reid said.
To strengthen leadership at the parish level, the report suggests enrolling four parishes in Father James Mallon's Divine Renovation program, and offering 10 other parishes training in communication and teamwork.
Schratz said programs are successful when they help parishioners realize their strengths and use them in ways that benefit others. He added this priority has a few more treats for parishes.
"We know we put a lot of demands on our parishes," he said. "We'd like to be able to offer them something out of the priorities and goals that says, 'We recognize there's a lot being put on your shoulders; here's something we'd like to do for you.'"
They will be offered support in three major areas: human resources, communications, and development. For example, Schratz said, parishes in the hiring process can rely on the Human Resources Office for tips and support.
He said parishes with a dormant web presence could also have their websites revamped and hosted for free.
Though the four priorities don't have a precise deadline, Dowding said they will be the focus for the next two to three years, with annual reviews to gauge their success.
The last time Archbishop Miller released archdiocesan priorities and goals was in 2012; in most cases, those deadlines had been successfully met by last fall.
"Accomplishing these goals is something we can each play a part in," Reid added.
"If you're involved in the life of the Church, think and pray about at least one of these goals. There is something you can do about it. Ask the Lord what, and then do it."