Parish planning utilizes skill of ‘synodal listening’

By Jaye Alderson | For The Compass | May 10, 2022

Oshkosh parish focuses on ways to listen, meet needs of all people

Fr. Kevin Ripley, parochial vicar at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh, visits with Tim and Wendy Winchester and their children Noah and Allie during a home visit. Family visits are one way the parish is reaching out to the community. (Submitted Photo | Special To The Compass)

OSHKOSH — A major concern for members of Catholic parishes is thinking that they aren’t being heard, according to Barry Metzentine, parish operations and mission planning director for the Diocese of Green Bay. Fortunately, he added, the diocese and its parishes are listening and planning ways to address what they hear.

St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh is one example.

“We need to continue to engage people and try to reach them in their own lives, rather than wait for them to come to us,” explained Fr. Tom Long, pastor.

Since 2019, St. Raphael Parish has focused on finding ways to listen to and meet the needs of various groups, including parish families, young people and the homebound. It’s all part of parish mission planning (PMP).

Synod on Synodality

The worldwide Synod on Synodality, the two-year process of listening and dialogue that opened last October in Rome, is also focused on listening, both to the Holy Spirit and to every person’s voice, as well as on prayer and learning how to grow and journey together.

For more information on the synod in the Diocese of Green Bay, go to www.gbdioc.org/synod.

When Bishop David Ricken opened the diocesan phase of this synod journey last October, he noted that diocesan parishes already have been on this pathway of listening and discerning locally for many years. Intentional listening allows the diocese to develop new ways of sharing and living our faith.

Metzentine said that PMP involves listening and has led to new ways to plan. PMP has been part of the diocese for decades but, in just the past two and a half years, he said, more than 1,300 people across 130 parishes have been involved.

“A distinguishing factor with PMP,” he said, “different from more traditional planning, is that it invites parishioners from different experiences and perceptions, allowing them to pray, discuss and discern together with their pastor/parish leader.”

Common areas of needs and focus in most PMP goals surfaced in parishes, Metzentine added, and include hospitality, welcoming, young adult engagement and empowerment, parent and family needs, and community outreach and service.

“Parishioners are dealing with a lot of competing priorities in their lives and are feeling like they don’t have time,” he said. “There are a lot of distractions.”

The PMP process, Metzentine added, demonstrates the relevance of an active faith life and its importance in people’s day-to-day lives, providing a focus for parish communities to impact and better understand the needs of their community and embrace a more discipleship-oriented life.

St. Raphael’s planning, Fr. Long said, allowed them to “identify young families as a group within our parish that we want to support in a better way. We have a good number of young families in our parish and recognize that parents, especially, need a lot of help these days — and with COVID all the more. We wanted to help families grow in faith — parents themselves and then them passing that faith on to their children.”

‘Families of Faith’

Since 2019, St. Raphael Parish has also focused on faith formation through whole family catechesis called “Families of Faith,” working with parents separately, children separately and then with the whole family together. The program has been very successful and grown each year, Fr. Long said.

Another family-related effort is the Mary statue home visits. As Fr. Kevin Ripley, parochial vicar at St. Raphael Parish, explained it, “Every two weeks, for the last year and a half, our statue of Our Lady of Good Help has traveled to parish homes for families to pray for vocations. They each set up a Marian altar of sorts.”

The visits involve prayer with Fr. Ripley and reflections with the families.

Christian Family Movement

The parish also implemented the Christian Family Movement to help families share the Gospel and engage in action. St. Raphael Parish also hired a family outreach coordinator, Kathy Baehman, to engage parents of young families, as well as newly married couples.

“The Christian Family Movement is helping to bring families of any size and shape together to pray and get to know each other and share faith,” Fr. Long said. “Over time, there will be families and individuals who get to know more and more parishioners each year. It will help build community within our parish.”

He said another area of focus has been mentoring young people through music ministry. This is helping to deepen relationships with those young people and their families.

Karen Moehn, choir director and music and liturgy coordinator, said that even COVID-19 brought unexpected benefits.

“Through the support of parents in our community during COVID,” she said, “when we were not able to meet as a group for choir, parents supported our leadership to work with children individually one-on-one. Through individual mentoring and singing lessons, we were able to teach cantoring skills to children. They were able to cantor on their own until we were able to bring them back together to sing as a choir once again. We were greatly supported through the parents and families during this time.”

Moehn added that the children “excelled like crazy and it kept them connected to church.”

Fr. Long agreed, saying that this effort resulted in “a lot of good fruit,” with youth now regularly leading music at Masses. He added that now youth “are more involved in the liturgy, feeling more confident in their musical abilities and their familiarity with the Mass.”

Homebound ministry

St. Raphael Parish also has expanded its homebound ministry.

Done right, PMP becomes ongoing and builds community. St. Raphael Parish will continue to engage in listening to parishioners’ needs, Fr. Long said. “It is not just the time they spend at the church building that is important, but to support them in their lives, call them back more and more to the Mass and realize how important the church community is to all of us as Christians.”

Those simple acts of support and invitation can be powerful, Metzentine said. “If we just become more comfortable in knowing who people are and reach out in a comfortable way, we can invite them back to come and see, reconnect, reengage in the beauty and the splendor of our faith and the sacramental life,” he said. “It’s amazing how simple it can be sometimes (to address) that yearning for your friend to come back and be a community.”

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