A new three-year pastoral plan for the Jefferson City diocese focuses on building-up the Body of Christ by strengthening and renewing the life of every parish.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight released the plan, the result of a two-year diocesan-wide discernment process and an unprecedented level of input from parishioners of all ages, on Feb. 6.
He signed the document while celebrating Mass with college students during their SEEK21 conference in the St. Thomas More Newman Center Chapel in Columbia.
It was his third anniversary as bishop of this diocese.
He pointed out in his homily that young people figure heavily into the plan and will be essential in carrying out the spirit and specifics of it.
“You have the energy and you have a fresh pair of eyes to help our Church transform into what the Lord is calling us to be,” he told them.
Titled “A Steward’s Journey: Our Call to Greater Communion,” the plan will serve as a three-year roadmap for the Church’s ministry in these 38 counties, including life during and beyond the pandemic.
“This plan doesn’t provide us with a mission,” Bishop McKnight noted. “That was already given to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ, 2,000 years ago: to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
“But we do need a plan,” he said, “a strategy for how all of us, together, will live out the communion of the Church in response to everything that’s going on around us.”
The plan is rooted in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis’s first encyclical letter, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
In that document, the pope directs Catholics to look outward and minister deliberately and creatively to all people living within the territory of the parish — not just those who take part in parish life.
“The parish,” the pope states, “is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration” (“Joy of the Gospel,” #28).
From the ground up
Last winter, Bishop McKnight requested all parishes to discern their own plans for carrying-out the Church’s vision for parish life within their geographic territory.
The bishop and his advisors gave a timeline and process for praying, discussing and assessing each parish’s strengths and weaknesses in the areas of:
Pastors and lay leaders turned parishioners’ suggestions into doable, measurable objectives for carrying-out the three goals over the next three years.
The diocesan staff received parish pastoral plans from 70 parishes.
Throughout the summer, a group comprised of Diocesan Pastoral Council member Rick Nichols; LeAnn Korsmeyer, diocesan director of parish and charitable services; Father Jason Doke, moderator of the curia; Father Stephen Jones, director of stewardship, and Bishop McKnight reviewed and tabulated each of the plans.
Teens took part in online gatherings to give additional input.
Members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council met in August to ascertain themes and patterns among all of the parish plans.
Their observations formed the basis for a working document presented at a September assembly of lay representatives throughout the diocese.
Participants discussed the working document in small groups — specifically the aspects that ignite their passion, items that need clarification, and any concerns.
Their insights figured into creating a revised working document of the diocesan plan.
Bishop McKnight consulted with the priests of the diocese during their annual fall Institute before casting a final draft.
He said the plan will shape how the diocese “coordinates and leverages its resources over the next three years, to assist the parishes in fulfilling their own goals and their own activities to which they are holding themselves accountable.”
A role for everyone
Each year under the plan, the diocese and its parishes will work together on specific objectives for promoting a spirituality of stewardship, creating a culture of co-responsibility and strengthening charity and mercy in the parishes.
Among the highlights are:
“It really is about encouraging and inviting everyone to take their place and embrace their role in the mission of the Church,” the bishop stated.
Measure of success
Bishop McKnight wrote a pastoral letter to the people of the diocese to shed light on the pastoral plan and its purpose.
In the letter, he acknowledges many of the challenges facing the Church, the United States and local communities in this time of pandemic and polarization.
“But I have some good news to share with you,” he states. “The Lord has a future full of hope for us.”
He calls to mind St. Luke’s account of the two disciples who unknowingly encounter the risen Jesus on the road away from Jerusalem on the first Easter Sunday.
“Do you, with me, desire your heart to burn within you?” the bishop writes. “Are you open, like the two disciples in the Emmaus story, to listen to Jesus and to let Him change your mind about things that tempt you to be downcast, confused and troubled?”
The bishop then sheds light on the process that went into creating the plan, with clear evidence of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.
The bishop then provides insight into the three pillars of the plan: a spirituality of stewardship; co-responsibility; and parishes as centers of charity and sanctuaries of mercy.
He closes the pastoral letter with a reflection on the ideal Church presented in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
“Our communion,” the bishop asserts, “is strengthened whenever we adhere to the faith, when we practice our faith, and when we celebrate the sacraments in fidelity to Christ. This is why we are ‘Better Together.’”
He predicts that if the entire Roman Catholic Church in central and northeastern Missouri succeeds in the three priorities in the plan, “our parishes will be successful in their evangelization efforts to invite, welcome and engage more people in the life and mission of the Church.”