Saturday, June 03, 2006
"Listening Session" at St. Peter's Cathedral
One of the many projects I've neglected for this blog (which is still open to another contributor, hint, hint) is my report on the St. Peters "listening session," which I attended as a mole on May 10, 2006.
As a preliminary, I admit that the St. Peters' session wasn't probably the best one to attend, because that parish isn't at all likely to suffer in the process. After all, the bishop is unlikely to shutter the Cathedral, now, is he? (actually, I was told by a woman I sat next to that rumors constantly circulate that the Archbishop is going to demote St. Peters and move the cathedra and seal to some barn-style newfangled church in a more fashionable part of Johnson County). St. Peters is in one of the neighborhoods of Kansas City, Kansas, that has fared better than others in the eastern part of the city. The current Mayor, Joe Reardon, still lives in the neighborhood, and he participated in the session. As Kansas City, Kansas goes, it's a pretty solid area.
Anyways, the sessions were led by a Teresa (or Theresa) Horvat, who's an employee of the Archdiocese, rather than one of the mercenary consultants. Ms. Horvat is hereinafter referred to as the "Facilitator Lady."
The session started with a church closing prayer written by Fr. Dan Gardner for the process which had such catchy lines as "lead us forward beyond who we are." Sounds like something I'd read on the website of the goofball New Agers that are building behind my house. Wary of others' sentiments and intentions, I elected not to join them; instead I said Veni Spiritus Sanctus to myself.
After the prayer, the Facilitator Lady laid out the agenda:
1. Facilitator Lady would review the "planning process"
2. The ground would generate a list of the strengths and weaknesses of the parish and the school.
3. Facilitator Lady would then try to have the group do some "visioning about the future."
Immediately, one asks what "visioning about the future" would be about. It sounded rather goofy. I had to stay until the end to find out, and I was already sleepy when I got there. The first substantive part of the meeting, where Facilitator Lady solicited answers to the question "Why do we plan?," was a bad omen. MUST…STAY...AWAKE.
Facilitator lady, after reading some of all of the Archbishop's duplicitous letter, said that the purposes of involving the parishes in the planning process were as follows:
- Building ownership in the plan through participation of key stakeholders [read: make laymen feel like it's their fault, that the Church has imploded over the last four decades].
- To provide "communication" and "transparency" in the process and show there's "no hidden agenda" [read: we think you're to stupid to catch on that this is about closing churches and schools]
- Articulate a vision for the "pastoral region" (the Wyandotte County deanery) for the next decade that takes into account the shortage of priests and fiscal realities [read: cut back on Masses and schools because the "New Springtime" promised by Vatican II has left us with very few priests to say Mass and zero Nuns in the teaching orders to keep education affordable].
The larger process is as follows:
- In January, the Archbishop met with priests and hired Meitler Consultants (the firm which, I noted before, was quite useful to Cardinal Sean in shuttering must of what little is left of Holy Mother Church in Boston, and which was instrumental in helping Naumann, as a St. Louis auxiliary, shut down a bunch of historic churches in St. Louis as well (see the Rome of the West blog for more information on these). One of the things Facilitator Lady mentioned at this point was how important feedback and input from the laity would be, but then there were no decision makers, or even close counselors to the decision maker, at the meeting. Anyways, they established a task force and Msgr. Tank is in charge (something about him makes me uneasy).
- In March and April, the diocese collected raw data (population, mass attendance, etc.).
- In May and June, the consultants do facilities tours and go around interviewing parishes and schools, and then "listening sessions" such as this take place.
- Through the remainder of the summer, the consultants analyze data.
- In September, the parish leaders meet in focus groups.
- In September and October, there's another round of parish meetings.
- In October, the task force formulates recommendations
- In November, those recommendations are shared with parish leaders.
- In November and December, those recommendations are shared with the parishes at large.
In early 2006, the Archbishop will implement the plan (demolition crews get ready to bid!)
One of the things that was said at this point was that the Archbishop "doesn't have a plan in his desk drawer." I don't believe that. One of my other correspondents reported that the consultants slipped up at a task force meeting and said that, in response to one member's question, "Does it really matter what we conclude?," that the recommendations of the task force caused the Archbishop to change the plan.
Now tell me, if the Archbishop didn't already have a plan, how could the task force's recommendations cause there to be a change in plans ???
Now at this point, someone jumped in and asked whether they were closing Bishop Ward High School. The Facilitator Lady's response was "I'm not here to talk about closing anything." Heh, heh.
They discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the parish (leaving the school aside for a time). The strengths consisted of the predictable stuff about being a strong faith community, and nice liturgies [does this mean lots of altar girls and loud singing of Glory & Praise hymns?], and a pretty church and so forth, but I think the best observation came from Joe Reardon, the mayor, who observed that St. Peters was the closest thing to a traditional parish in Wyandotte County (by which he meant a parish where the parishioners lived in the geographic boundaries, instead of driving in from JoCo as they do in parishes like St. John the Baptist). The weaknesses (excuse me, "challenges" included poor weekly collections, resentment that their Archdiocesan support seems to get spent on JoCo projects, a divisive previous rector, an aging population, and trouble getting new folks involved.
At this point, there was a digression as to whether Spanish Masses were a good thing because they served the Spanish speaking population or a bad thing because they kept Spanish and English folks from integrating and assimilating, An interesting point was made, and that was that the English speaking folks have just as much right to preserve their culture as do the Spanish speakers, and it got tense for a moment, but it's a good point, if not artfully made. Funny, none of that would be at issue (except perhaps the sermons) if they were celebrating Mass in the language of the Universal Church, Latin. Hmm. But now I digress.
With respect to the schools' (both the grade school and Bishop Ward high school) strengths and weaknesses, everyone was particularly concerned. Not so many strengths were mentioned, but when someone suggested that there was some academic weakness, an assistant prosecutor for Wyandotte County, who was in the audience and who had experience with delinquents from public schools in the 'Dotte, begged to differ and said the Catholic schools were far and away better. As for the other weaknesses in the schools, the complaints were that religious education was somewhat weak [somewhat?], that tuition was too high (one guy said it was something like $5,000 to send you kid to Bishop Ward High School and there wasn't much in the way of other programs like music and art. Wow. That's obscene for a place like Rockhurst, much less a place like Bishop Ward), that wealthier JoCo parishes poached good teachers, and that the fundraising emphasis, the new toys, and laity's attention is all going to the fancy new JoCo high school rather than to Bishop Ward.
So ended the discussion of strengths and weaknesses. A lot more was said; not much of it was worthy of being written down.
Finally (and here I was getting really sleepy), we got to the "Visioning the ideal parish" and "visioning the ideal school." No surprisingly, the ideal parish would have at least two full time priests serving the parish itself, and not just a second one in residence to help with Masses, but who was on another assignment during the week or retired or whatnot. The ideal parish would also have more youth programs and so forth. The ideal school would be a school that has what the new JoCo high school, St. James, has.
At that point I nodded off, woke myself up, and slipped out the back. I'd seen all I cared to see.