Diocese to spend 2016 discerning, articulating new pastoral priorities

By Maureen Smith
In January Bishop Joseph Kopacz and the Diocese of Jackson will begin a year-long process of discerning and proclaiming a shared vision and priorities for the church in this part of Mississippi. The process will be facilitated by Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), an organization dedicated to helping strengthen the church through leadership formation and consultation. While the process is very structured, Mike Fullam, the CLI team leader who will consult on the planning and execution, said it starts and ends with the people.
“A big part of this is input from the faithful as the priorities and goals are developed. This vision is shared, not just by the bishop, but by his chancery staff, by the presbyterate, the people – everyone is going to have a part to play,” said Fullam.
“It has been almost 10 years since the last process and every organization needs to do some kind of planning every decade,” explained Bishop Kopacz. “This is not so much strategic planning, but listening to the reality of the diocese from those who live it,” he added.
Bishop Kopacz said he feels like he knows the diocese better now that he has served here for two years, but wanted to dig deeper into the life of the church here. “This is a comprehensive approach. It provides an opportunity to listen that I don’t have speaking to people individually as I travel around,” explained the bishop.
Initially, a team will go through training to facilitate a series of listening sessions. “An essential part of developing this mutually shared vision and priority plan is for the bishop to listen and learn from the people of God in the diocese,” said Msgr. Elvin Sunds, who will be working with CLI to coordinate the effort. “There will be 13 listening sessions all around the diocese at which the laity are invited to discern and speak to the bishop. There will be two sessions for the clergy and lay ecclesial ministers,” Msgr. Sunds added.
“This is a great opportunity for the bishop to listen to the faithful – to learn from them,” explained Fullam. The sessions are not town hall meetings, they are structured to allow everyone to reflect and share in a meaningful way. The bishop has no expectations of what might emerge, he wants to hear from the people. “If the response is healthy at each listening session, that’s going to be a lot of input,” said Bishop Kopacz. He wants to encourage people to participate. “This is an opportunity to really hear what the concerns are, what people are proud of, what they are grateful for,” said Bishop Kopacz.
At the sessions, which will include bilingual and youth components, people will sit at tables. “Each person will be given some questions to answer,” said Fullam. At their tables they will discuss their answers and one person from each table will present the priorities that emerge. “Anyone is welcome at any listening session. They do not have to go to the one closest to their parish,” he added.
CLI will compile the answers presented in the sessions and will help Bishop Kopacz form a leadership team. “The leadership team will review what was heard as well as other data points,” said Fullam. From that the team will articulate a shared vision and the top three priorities for the diocese for the next decade or so. The team then identifies goals the diocese needs to reach to fulfill the priorities. The bishop will write a letter outlining the vision and priorities for the diocese and the leadership team will transition into a diocesan pastoral council. The bishop and this council will oversee the work to reach the goals. “This is an exciting opportunity for everyone in the diocese to speak to the bishop and help shape the future of the church in our diocese,” said Msgr. Sunds.
“The team that’s going to be commissioned will go through a major process of formation,” said Bishop Kopacz. The members will gather several times throughout the year to become a team and go through the data, with help from CLI. “They will help me and other diocesan leadership develop these pastoral priorities and they will have a bigger picture of life in the diocese. They will have a significant role to play,” said the bishop.
Bishop Kopacz said while the vision and priorities will be for the diocese overall, individual parishes will have roles to play. “People in parishes and on parish pastoral councils can look at it and say ‘how does this apply to us?’”
The vision statements from other dioceses who have gone through this process are often short, such as the Diocese of St. Augustine’s “Come, live in the Light,” but the priorities and goals use corporate strategic language and include ways to measure success and timelines for each.
The Jackson diocese went through a strategic planning process more than 10 years ago. This process is different, both because the needs of the diocese have changed and because of the methods CLI is bringing. The CLI website describes it this way, “all of these services are structured to facilitate strong, collaborative relationships between key staff and team members as well as between team members and their bishop as a means to develop quality ministry and respectful communications between all persons and accompanying decisions.”