“I came that they may have life and have it in abundance.”
– John 10:10
We are all familiar with the word ‘decline.’ We have experienced a decline in the number of available priests, a decline in the Catholic population, a decline in the number of people attending Mass, a decline in the availability of volunteers. While this is all true, these statistics may give us an impression that we should be accepting of these losses, that it is OK to be without (fill in the blank) because we just don’t have (fill in the blank). The truth is we do have the means and resources, with some creativity, to provide for the pastoral and spiritual needs of the people of
In 2017, the Diocese of St. Cloud began a planning process knowing we needed to change some of the structures of our churches because we would not be able to fulfill the priest assignments with the number of retirements between 2019-2023. Through this process, the Area Catholic Communities model was born. This model was intended to create a model of intentional collaboration across parish boundaries – a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity.
Pooling resources and efforts with our neighboring parishes gives everyone opportunities when there are limited resources. I believe that we can be better together.
The vision of Area Catholic Communities is this:
Every parish in the Diocese of St. Cloud will be part of an Area Catholic Community consisting of two or more parishes in a given area. All Area Catholic Communities will collaborate to provide for the pastoral and spiritual needs of all. As Area Catholic Communities share resources, talents and efforts, we hope to reenergize Catholics so all parishes thrive in the Diocese of St. Cloud.
In March of 2020, two requirements were asked of each ACC by then Bishop Donald Kettler: one, that a joint council be formed, and two, that a joint bulletin be published for the ACC. These two steps were designed to build unity, facilitate communication and initiate intentional collaboration between the parishes of
Collaborative initiatives were to be discussed and discerned. Because each ACC has different resources and challenges it was up to each to decide what pastoral needs needed to be addressed with a collaborative effort and how to do that. A pastoral plan for each ACC was submitted to the planning office and is up on the website.
As I have gone out to ACCs to share the statistics and make a case for this change, I share the mantra “collaboration not competition.” I have heard statements such as, “That church has the better Mass time so our numbers aren’t as good” or “That family comes to Mass in our parish all the time. They should transfer membership to our parish.” I wonder, are we competing with each other for the same people? Why are we doing that? Is our mission to steal from a neighboring church so we have better numbers? Where is the common good for all? How are we providing for quality faith-filled experiences for our youth and young adults? How are we providing for those who want to enter the Catholic faith? Are our liturgies so Spirit-filled that everyone walks out the church doors on fire with their faith that they can’t wait to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the next person they see? Does our hunger for taking care of the least among us come from our being fed at the table of the Lord?
Four years into this model of ACCs we have learned lots of things. Creativity, new ideas and innovative approaches have brought new energy and excitement. Being able to think outside the box and to see outside of parish lines has given birth to some opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. New relationships have formed and there is intentionality in our visioning with goals and action steps. Yes, there are challenges. As a Diocesan Planning Council, we are beginning to look at the current challenges in our ACCs and to develop strategies to address them always with the questions, “What are the next steps for the ACCs?” “What is God asking of us at this time and in this space?”
The Holy Spirit continues to move and shake us, making us discern answers to hard questions. Who we are in the world and how we are to be is always changing, it is never static. When we are open to the Spirit’s amazing creativity, things happen that we would never have guessed for ourselves.
As I look back on the last four years, I see growth. Maybe that growth isn’t in numbers, but it is in the collaborative efforts, in the relationships and activities that have been built across parish boundaries in service to one another to build up the kingdom of God. Why ACCs? Why collaboration? So that all may have life and have it in abundance.