While every process must be adapted, consider the following as a launching point for discussion with your pastoral council and pastoral staff.
1. Make the Decision - Discuss the idea with influential leaders and opinion-makers in the parish. Share the particular benefits expected for this parish.
2. Form a Task Force – Once the decision is made to proceed, gather a task force. To be eligible candidates must be respected in their parish, committed to pastoral excellence, articulate about the hopes partnership. The respective pastors should be clear about the scope of the partnership and the task force in shaping it. Pastors should be clear about how the task force will interact with the respective pastoral councils and respective parish staff members.
- Form an exploratory group to investigate the benefits and implications of a parish partnership.
- Consult with staff, pastoral council, finance council, leaders of parish organizations. By consulting broadly, you diffuse resistance and warm the atmosphere to a new idea.
- Ask key leaders:
- How do you see a partnership enriching the parish, its organizations and ministries?
- What does this parish have to contribute to another parish?
- Who would represent the parish on a joint steering committee?
- How does the parish choose a partner?
- What are the parish expectations and priorities?
- Share a timeline for decision-making.
- Identify the staff person who will advocate and coordinate this effort.
- Obtain a two year commitment from the parish for a partnership. This is important because a partnership necessitates change. Even the best changes cause fatigue. And while changes often take two years to achieve acceptance, change fatigue can burn out leaders in less than eighteen months. Sometimes it is just a few months that make all the difference between success and discouragement.
- gather the task force taking sufficient time to build a team. Pray together and share hopes and expectations for the project.
- make a list of all the organized groups and ministries within the parish, describe the purpose/activities of each and how they interact in the parish
- meet with all interested groups in the parish to establish hopes and expectations
- communicate hopes and expectations to the entire parish
- develop a criteria for selection and do not overlook any existing informal cooperation or a natural affinity that may already exist with the ancestral neighborhoods of parishioners who have moved out into the suburbs
- educate the congregation about the purpose and process for a parish partnership, how it works best, the need for a spirit of hospitality, the benefits and opportunity for growth and conversion. Sometimes the most rewarding partnerships are found more in diversity than in similarity.
- meet with prospective parishes and discern the best match
- announce the decision and arrange for a date to exchange blessings
- develop a pilot experience and celebrate a successful launch event for the partnership
3. Merge Task Forces into into a Partnership Steering Committee - Once the partnership is established, merge the respective task forces of both parishes into a steering committee. Equip the group to plan, manage and evaluate the partnership progress taking sufficient time to build a team. Pray together and share hopes and expectations for the project. The most rewarding partnerships transform the partners and the way everyone understands and does church.
4. Plan - Partnership is a product of careful planning. Discern all decisions in prayerful setting. Allow prayer and community input to guide next steps. Start getting acquainted with prospective parishes and advise them of your interest and motivation. Keep these focus questions before the planners at all times:
- How do we define church?
- What is God asking of us?
- What are our expectations of ourselves and what are our expectations of our partner parish?
- What can we contribute to a rewarding collaboration?
- How can this relationship lead us to more faithfully love God, love God’s people and do God’s will?
- In considering a partner parish are we more interested in finding a parish with significant similarities or a parish that can make unique contributions?
Follow a planning process that is clear and transparent and stay on track. Identify mutually beneficial priorities, set goals, write specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-limited (S.M.A.R.T.) objectives and create plans of action. Once the steering committee is established, goals are set and progress is being made, the group delegate much of work related to implementation and logistics to leaders and active parishioners in the partner parishes and eventually downshift meetings to bi-monthly and then a quarterly schedule. The partnership should evolve to become a cooperative and integrated agenda for both parishes with the help and oversight of staff members, the respective pastoral and finance councils.
5. Get the Word Out – use multiple forums to communicate the shared aspirations of the partnership. Get creative parishioners to think up a catchy slogan. And continually report the progress of the partnership. Consider which of the following methods will work best for a particular purpose: newsletter articles, bulletin blurbs and inserts, website announcements, facebook page, youtube videos, promo buttons, posters, personal calls, town meetings, council reports, letter from the pastors, press releases and articles in the diocesan and secular press
6. Keep Parishioners Meeting and Mixing – whether it is at social gatherings or in a meeting, be intentional about using icebreaking and community building activities to foster relationships of trust whenever people from the partner parishes are present.
7. Celebrate the Success – even the small ones. The celebrations are often the most unifying activities in parish partnerships.
8. Evaluate Everything – Evaluate the impact of the activity or event from the perspective of its impact on the partnership.
Parish vitality does not just happen. It is enhanced by intentional collaboration between parishes. If this is your goal, contact the Office of Parish Life or call 716-847-5531.