By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – The Diocese of Jackson began a yearlong pastoral reimaging process at Pentecost 2023 and will conclude on Pentecost 2024. This process was initiated as a result of the diocesan Synod on Synodality in 2021.
During the Synod process three priorities were articulated across the diocese which included all demographics (age, gender, race, etc.). They were a call for healing and unity; greater catechesis at all levels; and a deeper understanding of scripture.
“In evaluating how we developed these three themes across the diocese we discerned a pastoral plan for parishes and missions was in order,” says Fran Lavelle, director of faith formation for the diocese and member of the core team who are working on the pastoral reimagining process.
“The current reality in our post-Covid world provided additional motivation to look at where we are as a church and how we are called to serve our communities.”
The process is divided into five major phases. The first phase ran from Pentecost this year through early September, with each pastor or lay ecclesial minister (LEM) establishing a pastoral reimagining committee and having the committee view four ecclesiology video sessions and answer a series of questions designed to guide conversation on who we are as a church, said Lavelle.
The four video sessions, led by Bishop Joseph Kopacz, focus on the four marks of the church – one, holy, Catholic and apostolic; and are available for anyone to view on the diocese website. (https://jacksondiocese.org/pastoral-reimagining)
Father Nick Adam, rector of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson, felt great about the parish meetings for the pastoral reimagining process with the guidance of the video series.
“A couple of high priority items came forth from the gatherings,” said Father Nick.
“We need a much bigger social media presence; we are very good at being welcoming, but our evangelization can be even stronger; and we need to develop a youth group.”
Bishop Kopacz said that phase one, “set the table in reminding ourselves what it means to be a church and what our identity as Catholics requires of us in the world. Our desire was to create a common understanding from which to grow a vision for the Diocese of Jackson.”
During phase two, that runs through Dec. 31, 2023, each parish will undertake a parish assessment which will include the current situation at the local parish, the growing edges, the areas that are diminishing, the opportunities for collaboration with other parishes in the area and other local realities.
“In phase two, we will reimagine the responsibilities of each parish and mission to foster a sense of unity, underscored by the four marks of the church and grounded in data,” said Bishop Kopacz.
This phase also includes a detailed report on diocesan demographics by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University. The report summarizes the overall demography of the diocese, as well as a profile of the Catholic population living in the confines of the diocese. The data sources include the Decennial Census, The American Communities Survey (ACS) and other data sources from the Census Bureau. It also relies on the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Survey, and the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) Decennial Religion Census.
“After analyzing the demographic data, parishes will look for opportunities for growth; evaluate ministries and evaluate challenges that can be addressed,” said Lavelle.
Beginning in 2024, the third phase of the reimagining process will consist of guided and facilitated sessions for deaneries to work through challenges, both the growing edges and diminishing areas of ministry locally and within the deanery.
“The goal of phase three is to gain a realistic perspective of the health and well-being of the deanery within the setting of the individual parishes; and to look at areas of redundancy and potential areas for sharing resources,” shared Lavelle.
The fourth phase will include a period of discernment on reports from the six deaneries in the diocese and a pastoral letter from Bishop Kopacz, outlining the finding in each deanery and set forth parameters for implementation of an overall diocesan vision.
“In order for a comprehensive vision to be developed, each parish and mission is charged with engaging the parishioners to best understand the needs and opportunities in each location,” Lavelle says.
The final phase concludes the pastoral reimagining process with a diocesan celebration at Pentecost 2024, the details of which are still being worked out, said Lavelle.