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Revisioning our Pastoral Council

Dear Parish Family,


For more than 40 years, our parish (like most all other parishes) has had a Pastoral Council

made up of parishioners who collaborate with the pastor to identify the parish’s strengths and weaknesses in order to seize opportunities for St. Mary’s to flourish, as well as to address threats to the parish’s vitality. The Council and the pastor together make sure the parish’s sails are aloft and ready to catch the winds of the Holy Spirit, so that our course may be directed by God.


Pope Francis has challenged local parishes to learn from the recent worldwide Synod process, which invited voices from every corner of the Church to engage in dialogue, reflection and discernment about our faith, our mission and our future. The pope has in particular suggested that Pastoral Councils be reimagined in light of the Synod, so that more voices are a part of envisioning each parish’s future.


St. Mary’s is blessed with a large number of parishioners participating in small groups. One day it occurred to us: “What if Fr. Scott and the staff went out to the small groups with a list of questions in the style of those that were asked at the Synod? Might it be possible for us to

include not just a dozen people around a table in the process of parish visioning, but go out and expand that to the tenth degree and include a hundred or more people in the process?”


With a sense of excitement about this experiment, the staff and I called the hosts of each of the small groups and asked if they would be willing to invite us to join one of their sessions and ask them some open-ended questions:

  • What about your weekends at St. Mary’s brings you closer to God? What does not?

  • What gives you hope about the future of St. Mary’s Parish? What concerns you?

  • What is this parish doing well? What needs improvement?

As a result, Alison, Ben, Gary, Emily, Judy, our parish trustees and I split up the list of small

groups and over the course of a week in November went with our clipboards, notepads, pens and open ears to listen to more than 100 St. Mary’s parishioners share their responses to our questions. What we heard gave us enough input to mull over for a long time.


People told us they love the music at Mass each weekend. They love the relevance of the

homilies to their lives. They love seeing the Faith Finders at Mass, the “army” of volunteers

welcoming and assisting people, the Welcome Desk, the spirit of welcome and the warmth of the community. They had a number of things they also felt we could continue to improve:

some aspects of communication, including more people in ministry, engaging parents of the Next Generation, and more.


On February 6, we took the pages of notes from listening to members of those small group

sessions and tried to organize them into themes. We looked for patterns and echoes and

began to see what possibilities might be calling us to devote our energy and attention. In the

end, we found that people expressed a desire for us to focus on three areas at St. Mary’s:

  • Building up a vibrant community

  • Laying a foundation for growth

  • Continually refining and improving the weekend experience

In future Sharing Spots, I will share with you some of the particulars that came out of the small group suggestions. They include our volunteers, our Confirmation program, surveying our kids and teens, improving our performance in the annual Diocesan Appeal, increasing enrollment at our school, enhancing our annual financial reporting, bringing back the Cup at communion for the first time since Covid, tweaking security protocols, and many other action items.


The Synod process underscored the significance of discernment in decision-making as a spiritual practice rooted in prayer, reflection, and attentiveness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Our experience of this version of Pastoral Consultation filled our minds with fresh ideas and stirred our hearts.


Thank you to all the Small Group members for your candor, your creativity and for the love you have for St. Mary’s.


With pride and excitement,



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