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Road to Renewal Zoom sessions bring information to light

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The journey on the Road to Renewal has begun. Some of the first steps involved hosting a series of vicariate Zoom sessions that sought to hear from parishioners about the strengths, challenges, and opportunities for collaboration, among parish communities throughout the Diocese of Buffalo.

The teleconference sessions gathered as many as 65 people at a time, with over 20 different meetings broken down by vicariate and demographic. There are a number of sessions still in progress to reach out to underrepresented populations including young adults, school communities, and minority populations. So far over 720 parishioners, parish staff members and clergy were able to join in on these sessions to offer their insights on the strengths in their parishes, the challenges to their regions, and identify those who are not being served.

“We need to be thinking in terms of collaboration. The idea is, ‘Let’s start working alongside each other to address some of these concerns or challenges.’ We are going to be better able to fulfill the mission of the Church with parishes coming together and collaborating in their ministry efforts,” explained Eileen Warner, a member of the diocesan Renewal Task Force. 

Instead of mergers and closures, the idea would be a model where small groups of parishes share ministries and resources to strengthen support for their region. This might include a sharing of parish staff or various ministry programs; it could also be a joining together of area parishes to support outreach to the regions where needs are not being met. The hope is a move towards a model of “Families of Parishes” that will consider how to share resources to meet the needs of the faithful and the underserved populations in our communities

With the current number of 144 active diocesan priests and 161 parishes, there is a need to be mindful of the health and well-being of the clergy. Imagining a model that allows priests and laity to be at their best for the mission of the Church is paramount. It will be important to find ways to operate well and to avoid burnout; matching the gifts and talents with the needs in each parish and region will be a factor, which means that there may not be a “cookie cutter” model that will work for all.

“We have to look at creative ways to run parishes. It makes sense, some laity and deacons have 30 years of business and/or management experience and can help carry the administrative aspects of the parish by handling some of the day-to-day operations. This would help free up some of the clergy for more pastoral and sacramental ministry within the parish. It’s going to look different, but we have to get creative,” Warner said.

“The sessions were a good opportunity for people to have their voice heard, so that rather than assume, we now know what they see as the problems, after hearing it from those in the pews on our zoom calls,” said Megan Nixon, who is working with the task force.

Some common challenges and populations in need of pastoral outreach identified include the youth, elderly, divorced, addicted, veterans, domestic abuse victims, single parents, unemployed, and those with mental health issues, who some feel are underserved. There is also concern for outreach to people affected by the Covid pandemic.

 “These sessions also allowed parishioners to hear from each other, and begin to talk a bit about ways in which they can reach out and collaborate,” added Warner. “Even in the midst of all that we are dealing with locally, the Church needs to be mission focused. We need to continue to live the Gospel and be intentional about reaching out to others.”

The sessions also allowed Task Force members to clarify some of the misconceptions about the purpose of this Renewal initiative and to share statistics regarding current trends in the diocese that make it very clear the things cannot remain the way they are with so many downward trends. This information is available on the Road to Renewal website (https://roadtorenewal.org/).

 One misconception is that the diocese is lining up parishes and schools to be closed, similar to the Journey in Faith and Grace restructuring plan of the mid-2000s. “A lot of people thought, as soon as we were saying a new initiative and renewal that it was related to Journey in Faith and Grace,” said Nixon. “What we really want to do is explore what our strengths are and how can we continue, because we don’t want to close parishes. That’s not the game plan. That’s not the end point with this. It is more about how we can help change the focus of our parishes, to be outward looking rather than just maintaining the status quo.”

Over the summer, the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy released a document on pastoral conversion. “The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church” discusses the parish in a contemporary context, which is of a geographical location for people living in “a global and pluralist village.”

The document goes on to say that parishes should reconsider their purpose and be mission driven. “If the Parish does not exude that spiritual dynamic of evangelization, it runs the risk of becoming self-referential and fossilized, offering experiences that are devoid of evangelical flavor and missionary drive, of interest only to small groups,” it states.

  “We have to be mission focused, and recognize who the wounded and vulnerable are in our  communities Then if two or three parishes work together on this, they could probably address those needs more effectively than just one parish trying to do it,” Warner said.

The task force is now compiling data from the Zoom sessions and surveys, along with letters and emails to share a summary report with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger by the end of November.


Road to Renewal facilitator Eileen Warner consults with parishioners via Zoom in the Northern Erie Vicariate. The purpose of the meeting is for the facilitators to gather information about their experience of the mission and ministry in the area. Nicole Dzimira/Social Media Coordinator

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