The bylaws for the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) say any members can be elected to serve as chair and vice chair.
Both offices can be held by clergy, a Chancery employee, or a representative of one of the diocese’s five deaneries.
Members at the Nov. 11 DPC meeting elected new officers, both from among the deanery reps.
Chairwoman Colleen Abbott, a member of Our Lady of Snows Parish in Mary’s Home, represents the Southwest Deanery.
Vice Chairwoman Sarah Robinson, a member of St. Clement Parish in St. Clement, represents the Central Deanery.
“I’m grateful to Colleen and Sarah for agreeing to share their gifts and experiences in these leadership roles,” said Bishop W. Shawn McKnight.
“I look forward to seeing where the Holy Spirit leads us as we discern how best to continue building up God’s Kingdom in our parishes throughout the diocese,” he said.
The DPC advises the bishop on matters pertaining to the pastoral works of the Church in these 38 counties.
It is made up of two lay representatives from each deanery (region). The representatives are appointed by the bishop after being nominated by their respective deans. Further membership is made up of a representative of the presbyterate, of the deaconate, one Newman Center student, and any other members the bishop wishes to appoint. Finally, there are several members who serve based on their position at the Chancery as ex officio members.
Mrs. Abbot and Mrs. Robinson see their election to these offices as one indicator of co-responsibility being practiced in the diocese.
Co-responsibility, meaning appropriate cooperation among clergy and laity in carrying-out the mission of the Church, is one of the pillars of the current diocesan pastoral plan and the parish pastoral plans that it flows from.
The other pillars are the cultivation of stewardship as a way of life in the Church, and the universal recognition of each parish as a center of charity and sanctuary of mercy.
These have also figured prominently into ongoing pastoral planning for parishes, the deaneries and the diocese.
“I really believe in the bishop’s vision, and I think he’s doing an incredible job with our parishes becoming centers of charity and mercy,” said Mrs. Abbot. “We bring that about by caring for one another and using the talents we have been given.”
“This is an exciting time of change in the diocese, and it all fits together well,” said Mrs. Robinson. “Change takes time, but I think Catholics in the diocese are embracing co-responsibility now more than ever.”
Bringing people together
Mrs. Abbot gained experience leading meetings and facilitating discussions through her job and volunteer experiences.
An ag teacher by trade, she currently works in administration in the Eldon School District.
She has taught religious education classes at church and served as a member and chair of the Our Lady of Snows Parish Pastoral Council.
As a deanery representative to the DPC, she has helped facilitate surveys and town-hall meetings in search of ways to keep parishes vibrant and focused on their primary functions.
This is part of the deanery-based planning process known as Shaping Our Future Together.
Chief among the parish functions are worshiping God, preaching and teaching the Gospel, and helping people in need.
“The people are excited and engaged with the Shaping Our Future Together planning process and finding ways for parishes to collaborate better,” said Mrs. Abbott.
Mrs. Robinson has also noticed energy and excitement in the parishes of her deanery as they take part in Shaping Our Future Together.
“It’s positioning our parishes to help each other and grow stronger together,” she said.
Likewise, the last and largest group of parishes has been ushered into the stewardship model for supporting the work of the parishes and the diocese.
This and the annual parish Catholic Stewardship Renewal process has helped identify resources and areas of need, said Mrs. Robinson.
“It also has everyone thinking about how they can contribute,” she stated.
Mrs. Abbot said she sees effective lay involvement unfolding organically in parishes in her deanery.
“I think it’s the Holy Spirit working within those people and within those parishes,” she said.
“But also, it really does make a difference when the laity feel like they can be a part of the process and contribute something meaningful,” she stated.
“It’s everybody working together under the leadership and direction of a priest, who are under the direction of our deans and our bishop,” she said.
“Having the laity there saying, ‘these are our needs and these are how we can help other people with their needs’ is essential,” she stated.
Mrs. Abbott said important conversations took place and good data was collected in the initial phase of Shaping Our Future Together this year.
“I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit is moving these conversations,” she said.
Getting parishioners actively involved in the process has been healthy, “and they want more,” she stated.
“I’m excited about it, excited about what we’re going to do, how we’re going to make the parishes more thriving,” she said.
She emphasized that now is not the time for misplaced nostalgia or bitterness over things that can no longer be the way they used to be.
“We really have to focus on: What are the positives? What is my relationship with Jesus? How am I being transformed into his likeness?” she stated.
Mrs. Abbott said humility in leadership is a basic building block of co-responsibility.
“You can’t have all the answers,” she said. “You have to leave room for faith and the Holy Spirit. Together, we’re going to figure it out.”
She’s pleased at all the offers of help and cooperation that she and Mrs. Robinson have received from their fellow DPC members.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we have a lot of good people to do it,” she said.