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Pastoral planning in Diocese of Wilmington works to answer the question ‘What’s next?’ — Paul Henderson

The cross is carried along Jackson Street in Wilmington, during the 2023 Cross Pilgrimage, April 1, 2023. photo/Don Blake

By Paul Henderson
St. Edmond parishioner

In 2021, at the invitation of Pope Francis, the Diocese of Wilmington joined other dioceses throughout the Catholic church to talk about how we can journey together as vibrant communities of faith for all people. Our diocese had more than 67 listening sessions with over 1,400 people participating, discussing what is working well in our parishes and Catholic organizations and what might need more attention. These conversations were not about church teachings but how we, clergy, religious and lay women and men, walk together living our faith daily: how we create vibrant parish communities. At the end of this process Bishop Koenig identified 10 ways that our parishes and organizations can be more Christ-focused as vibrant and welcoming communities. He called these the “Ten Best Practices for Effective Ministry.”

It is important to note that these ministry practices came from “all of us” parishioners, clergy and religious. This is what we said is important if our parishes are to be vibrant and preach the Good News. It is also interesting that our same ministry practices are similar as those noted by dioceses across the United States.

So, now what comes next for us after these 2021 listening sessions?

Paul Henderson

At the end of the listening sessions the participants (clergy, religious and lay people) asked, “so what’s next?” The present deanery pastoral planning that is happening throughout the diocese is our diocesan “what’s next.”

Beginning earlier this year, parishes throughout the diocese, working together in regional groupings called deaneries, began a pastoral planning process with the end purpose to identify two to three deanery, or regional, goals — these will become our “what’s next.” Bishop Koenig is asking the people of the diocese to do this regionally using the insights from the 2021 listening sessions (Diocesan Best Practices) as our starting point.

Why regionally? Our diocese is diverse both geographically and demographically: from urban Wilmington to southern Delmarva farms and poultry producers to our coastal parishes. Each area has unique needs so a one-size-fits-all approach is not realistic or helpful. But, by using a common starting point for discussion (10 best practices) each region or deanery can identify what priorities are unique to them.

Is pastoral planning worth the time and energy?

Pastoral planning can be effective and it can be worth the time and energy if we all make a commitment to the process and to achieving the desired outcomes. It can provide us with a roadmap to continue to grow as a church and be vibrant communities of faith. Planning is asking three simple questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? These questions guide the work of the seven deanery leadership teams that were formed over the summer to discern the goals that each deanery will identify for the next three years. The insights gained from the present surveys can be used by individual parishes for their planning.

A final thought, is that the purpose of planning is to achieve something. I think we all know that to grow, develop, or achieve something requires prayerful reflection and discernment, commitment and energy and determination. This is true for a sports team, planning a family outing, doing a job, raising a family, and developing vibrant parish communities. With this present pastoral planning process each deanery or region of the diocese can decide “what’s next” so that we can continue the ministry of Christ and be vibrant faith communities.

Paul Henderson lives in Rehoboth Beach and is a parishioner at St. Edmonds. Before retirement he worked in church ministry for more than 40 years. He is a member of the diocesan core leadership team.