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Road to Renewal hosts second cohort training


Seven pastors and moderators, and one rector, took part in the Road to Renewal second cohort training at Canisius College on July 19. Guest speaker Dr. Scott Isaksen, along with Diocesan Human Resources director Tracy Saari, vicar for Renewal and Development Father Bryan Zielenieski, and Deacon Greg Moran, director for organizational development and strategic planning, spoke. Much ground was covered and the small setting allowed for many questions to be asked and answered.

Guest speaker Dr. Scott Isaksen, guest speaker at the Road to Renewal second cohort training session, explains the principles of leveraging creativity to keep up with changing times. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Isaksen, professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the Norwegian Business School, is also founder of the Creative Problem Solving Group. He came to help explain the principles of leveraging creativity, leveraging innovation, and helping to make transition work.

He used the acronym VUCA to describe the world today. VUCA means volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Buckminster Fuller did research and found that from 1500-1750 the total amount of information doubled. It now doubles every 11 hours.

Isaksen noted that it is highly unusual for a business to last 2,000 years as the Catholic Church has, or even 175 years like the Diocese of Buffalo. Only 12 percent of existing businesses are older than 20 years.

Businesses typically experience growth, plateau, then decline. The secret to success, according to Isaksen, is to create new growth before you are too deep into the decline.  

“A lot of businesses need to learn to ride two horses at once. Do their core really well and before they go down, they need to start another (rise), think about what’s next,” he explained.

His concept seems to fit the action of the Road to Renewal, which combines parishes into families under one pastor and a team of clergy and lay working together to compensate for a declining number of priests.

Deacon Moran took a close look at the six pillars that every family should focus on establishing – Liturgy, Spiritual Life, Forming Disciples, Outreach/Inreach, Stewardship and Administration.

“Every one of these six pillars, what are the right goals? Then we look at how do we accomplish them, who can accomplish them, and how do I measure them,” he said.

Deacon Moran then looked at the people who work on the teams. He identified seven types of people who are part of any committee – loyalists, sycophants, critics, opportunists, spectators, traitors and realists.

Loyalists and realists are assets to the process. Loyalists can be trusted, are highly engaged and work hard to support leaders and mission. Realists provide reliable critical thinking, interact with the group and leader, and offer constructive solutions when they disagree. The others are less engaged and may actually be working to serve their own goals.

Father Bryan Zielenieski, vicar for Renewal and Development, reviews some suggestion for forming pillar teams for the Family of Parishes. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

“Leaders want and need to create results, fulfill their goals and mission, and to be aware also to do that they need to be aware of the role of the followers play in the group dynamics,” he said.

Father Zielenieski suggested pillar teams be made of family members, not individual parish teams. He also suggested inviting a larger group of volunteers to become involved, rather relying on the same people time and again.

“They’re wonderful … But we also need people on our pillar groups who will challenge us and take us to the next level, that will be creative, that will be the people who vision to the future,” he said, adding, “Creating those pillar teams is crucial.”

Tracy Saari, the diocese’s new human resources director, ran through the basics of hiring, employee life cycles, preparing employees for success, managing behaviors, proper performance documentation, and respectful and proper termination protocols. She emphasized that communication is key to any transition.

Sister Louise Alff, OSF, encouraged pastors to bring the Life in the Eucharist program into their Family of Parishes. The five-week session examines five aspects of the Eucharist. The program can be used in RCIA or adult faith formation sessions.

Also, Alpha USA has presented the diocese with $60,000 in resources for family training. The 11-week Alpha program proposes ways to change the culture of parishes to be more spiritually rooted and outreaching, guiding the parishioners to being missionary disciples and cultivates a culture of hospitality, and being grounded in the Spirit.

“They help us, when we go on these sessions, to develop that culture in our parishes,” Sister Louise explained.

Father Matt Nycz, recently joined the Central Niagara Catholic Family as moderator, was one of the guests. 

“Great progress has been made in certain areas (of the family) including establishing a central office – hub, changing Mass schedules, which now have to be tweaked slightly. Pillars? Most of them are in place and working. Overall we have a good team of three former pastors who became priests in solidum. That’s the title of collaborative ministry team working together. So far, this process, in our case, works out very well. We found a way to really collaborate and help each other out,” he said.

Deacon Greg Moran explains how to identify potential team members at the Road to Renewal training at Canisius College on July 19. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

The challenges include tending to parishes that feel they receive less attention because no priest lives in their rectory. With two city parishes and two rural, “some people may feel the attention is more on Lockport now and not on them. From their perspective, it’s a valid concern. So, we have to be attentive to all the needs and address them,” Father Nycz said.

On the training day he said, “It’s a great tool to help me and help other priests, pastors to get into the groove of this new reality.”


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