Why not gather with the parishes of your cluster to celebrate your “best practices” and hear new ideas? This is an effective way to foster cooperation between parishes and celebrate your parish successes. Best practices are the fruit of valuable experience and while best practices can work in almost any parish, some may need explanation and a degree of adaptation. That is the purpose of the gathering.
(Download Session Designs - Session I or Session II)
- Welcome and Get-Acquainted (15 minutes)
- Prayer (15 min.)
- Break-out Presentations (60 min.)
- Break (15 min.)
- Parish Ministry Group Sharing (20 min.)
- Large Group Discussion (20 min.)
- Expression of Gratitude (10 min.)
- Blessing (5 min.)
This gathering can be conducted either on a weekday evening or on the weekend. You can make an evening event special with a simple soup supper. On the weekend, you can enhance the spirit of community by concluding with a light meal or Mass. This design can also be adapted for use with various ministries within one parish.
I. Welcome and Get-Acquainted (15 minutes)
Gathering - As people arrive, provide them with name tags, refreshments and ask them to put their first name, the name of their parish and their primary area of ministry (if this can be done in advance for most of the participants, even better).
Welcome - Invite a leader from the host parish to warmly welcome those in attendance. Thank participants for coming and for the service that they render with such devotion on behalf of their parish. Explain the agenda for the gathering and the location of bathrooms to those new to the facility. Invite a designated leader (someone from another parish) to come forward and serve as facilitator. Sharing leadership for this session is an important way to model parish cooperation.
Get Acquainted - Invite people to get acquainted by forming small groups (four to eight members) with no more than one or two persons from each parish in any one group. (Consider placing small colored dots on each name tag to help distinguish people by parish at quick glance) When groups are formed ask people to look over the following questions (posted in the front or on a sheet of paper at their seats). Once groups are ready, ask someone to volunteer to keep time, so that each person can speak for two minutes in the following ways with the following questions:
Instructions - Complete the sentence of your choice (below) with one other person in the group:
- The most important contribution that I am trying to make in my ministry is…
- The way that I grow personally from my ministry is…
- One reason why I stay in this ministry…
Instructions - Complete the sentence of your choice (below) with the entire small group:
II. Prayer – Ministry Given in God’s Mercy (15 minutes)
- If I could do anything else at my parish it would be…
- One way that our parish is making a difference in our community is…
- One thing that we can do better is…
- One ability or knowledge that we need more in our service to the church's mission…
Invite broad participation in visible leadership roles as another way to model collaboration.
Gather: Consider "All are Welcome", "Song of the Body of Christ", "Somos el Cuerpo de Christo", "Sing a New Church" or something similar that is familiar to those gathered.
Listen: 2 Corinthians 4: 1,7,10
Reflection: Offer a brief reflection including some response to the following questions: How is my ministry a source of God’s mercy for me? What is the difficulty (affliction) involved in our ministry? When have I lost heart? Why? What is dying in me so that I may live in Christ? The parish is also an earthen vessel. How is God’s power being revealed even through a parish’s imperfection?
Respond: Invite everyone to come forward to sign themselves by using a basin of holy water at the center. As people do so, ask them to recall how God's mercy sustains us in our ministry.
Go Forth: Sing a call and response setting of the Profession of Faith (contact Our Lady of Hope, Buffalo at 716-885-2469 or use any other hymn about service or the call to ministry - e.g. 'Here I Am, Lord", "The Servant Song" or "Earthen Vessels")
III. Break Out “Best Practices” Presentations (60 minutes)
Preparation – In preparation for the break-outs, ask each parish to survey its leaders and determine what they do best (e.g. youth ministry, stewardship campaign, ministry fair, greeters, Lenten retreat, faith formation, liturgical environment, baptismal preparation, music ministry, bereavement, outreach, social justice, etc.). Ask each parish to present one area of best practice. If more than one best practice is identified in a parish, the pastor can consult with the pastoral council to choose which one to share with the other parishes of the cluster. Invite participants to choose an area of best practices from the list provided. It is important to ask those who know the practice best to make the five minute presentation and answer questions.
Timing and Topics – One way that the time can be divided is into four 15 minute blocks (five minute presentation, five minutes for questions and five minutes for movement between break-out spaces). Depending on space and number of parishes in the cluster, there can be more than four break outs offered at any one time. In one hour the presentations will be repeated four times, giving those in attendance the chance to hear about four great ideas and not be overwhelmed or fatigued.
Instructions - the facilitator explains what best practices are as follows: "A “best practice” is a way in which a parish or a particular ministry excels. It does not have to be elaborate. Best practices can be simple and small and still be significant (e.g. commitment to evaluate every event against pre-determined goals, having a half-time break with healthy snacks at meetings, always asking if something is relevant to youth and young families, etc.). Today the best practices will be… (Announce topics and locations of each presentation.). While best practices can work in almost any parish, some of these may need a word of explanation or a degree of adaptation. That is the purpose of this time." Invite participants choose topics of greatest interest to them or their ministry. The presenters will only speak for a few minutes because they know how important it is to allow time for questions. This is your chance to test the idea, think creatively or to consider how this idea might be applied in your own circumstances.
Locations - These presentations can be held in four corners of a large room or in separate small meeting rooms in the same parish building. Depending on size of the facility and what space is used for the break outs, the facilitator may need a way to announce the time changes and have hall monitors available to assist people in finding session locations. Larger parish facilities sometimes provide a program with schedule and locations on a small facility map.
IV. Break (15 min.) Consider the time of day. Provide some healthy snack alternatives.
V. Parish Ministry Group Sharing (20 min.)
Invite participants to gather by ministry group for each parish to share what was learned and what application it may have to one’s own ministry:
- The most interesting thing that I heard tonight was…
- I wonder how we would implement…
- The thing that we most need to renew our ministry is…
- The one thing that I would change about the way I do my own ministry is…
VI. Large Group Discussion (20 min.)
Re-gather everyone. Use this time to either allow parish ministry groups to make brief reports regarding what was most interesting from the break-outs, or ask the ministry groups to name items that would benefit from cooperative planning.
VII. Expression of Gratitude (10 min.)
This is an opportunity for the pastors to express thanks to their people who do so much to make the parish a community that loves God, loves God’s people, does God’s will and leads others to God. Consider the gift of a good book on prayer, leadership, working with volunteers or spirituality. Consider: All Saints by Robert Ellsberg, Cloud of Witnesses by Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday, Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder, Jesus on Leadership by C. Gene Wilkes, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer by Jonathan and Thomas W. McKee or Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy.
VIII. Closing Remarks and Blessing (10 min.)
Thank everyone again: pastors, organizers, prayer leaders, breakout session facilitators, greeters, etc. Make any last minute announcements about lost items, upcoming events and plans for the next “Best Practices” gathering (see below).
Blessing: OPTION A: Direct all the pastors to encircle the people, raise their hands and recite (either together or by taking turns on each line): Lord we ask your blessing on these your servants. May we find joy in this pastoral service. May we allow You to work through us. May our parishes grow in faith, hope and love through the work of our hands. May your Holy Spirit strengthen us in mind and heart, as we strive to lighten the burdens of others. We pray this in Jesus’ name… (Amen). Or choose another familiar prayer of blessing (e.g. Irish Blessing). OPTION B: Invite each group (perhaps seated by table) to do likewise for each other around the circle.
Do not forget to evaluate! Within a week of the gathering contact parish leaders by email or phone and ask them to do a quick evaluation of the event by responding to just three statements: 1. The best part of the gathering was…, 2. If I could change one thing about the session, it would be…, 3. The likelihood of me attending another session like that is (circle the word): definite - great – good – fair – undecided – unlikely – very unlikely.
Plan to re-gather in six months for Best Practices II. For a detailed description of “Best Practices II” and planning handouts, contact the Office of Parish Life or call 716-847-5531.