Well, with the “Sword of Damocles” hanging over our head here at St. Mary/St. Lucy, March 23rd is the day when the “Strategic Planning Committee supposedly is going to make their recommendation to Archbishop Chaput concerning the reconfiguration of Manayunk. A final announcement should follow soon after that.
These types of restructuring have been done at numerous (arch)dioceses throughout the country for a number of years now. Detroit was one of the first. Boston and San Fransisco are two larger Archdioceses which have done so in more recent years. Boston did “round 1” several years but Cardinal Sean O’Malley decided on a different approach in “round 2” allowing clusters of parishes much more leeway in deciding how they should/could restructure several parishes in a specific geographic area to address their pastoral needs. Although I found his approach rather creative and pastoral in nature, to be fair, this is their second “go-round.” Thus, they have some experience that Philadelphia (for example) has not yet acquired.
In a recent blog about the reconfiguration in the Archdiocese of Cleveland, I got to thinking about the process that we have gone through here in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia and what resources I used just to try and get information into my head to assist myself as the process went forward.
Two books in particular I found informative. Listening to the People of God by Charles Zech and Robert Miller (who actually works in the Office for Strategic Planning for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) was one. A relatively short book, Google Books describes it as a book that, “Analyzes parish restructuring and generates recommendations from the perspective of parishioners.” It was actually the results of a number of surveys that the authors conducted following parish mergers/closures/restructures around the country, is somewhat technical in nature but I found it helpful to get some background information. What Miller and Zech (in my opinion) did especially well was to point out where (arch)dioceses got it wrong. Based on their findings, it would behoove those in authority to go the other direction and follow Zech and Miller’s recommendations.
Another interesting book was Struggle for Holy Ground by Michael Weldon. One reviewer said that this book, “…offers a study for any parish leader to use as a reference when facing such a conflicted issue. This work explores the roles of ritual and pastoral care and proposes a series of new rites: group reconciliation, atonement, lament, leave-taking, memorial, and inauguration, based on the personal experience of those involved in parish restructurings.” This book comes at the issue from a bit more emotive side and Michael goes into the emotional, spiritual experiences that people had. But he also much excellent insights, advice and concrete suggestions that could be incorporated after the decision to close/merge/consolidate a parish has been announced.
What I especially found helpful was his very specific descriptions on how different people will act – and react – depending on the situation. He was “spot-on” as I experienced some of his examples first hand. It helped me in that I knew – ahead of time – what “could” happen, was able to identify it when it happened, and was not taken by surprise when it occurred.
No matter how much reading, information gathering, consultation, one has been consistent everywhere, this is VERY HARD!
Any local Philly people out there? What are your thoughts?