CHICAGO (CNS) — When the Archdiocese of Chicago’s new Department of Parish Vitality and Mission debuts this summer, parishes should notice a new dedication to helping them fulfill the church’s mission, according to the department’s directors.
Father Ron Lewinski and Father Peter Wojcik, who will lead the department, said the goal is to focus on the mission rather than on programs, and to create a structure that responds to parishes’ needs instead of developing programs that parishes might or might not want to use.
It’s one part of the “Renew My Church” initiative, which is being rolled out to parishes as the archdiocese looks for ways to revitalize its mission in an environment of changing demographics, fewer priests and ongoing financial challenges.
“‘Renew My Church’ is designed to strengthen our whole community,” Father Wojcik told the Catholic New World, the archdiocesan newspaper. “It includes the whole archdiocese.”
Father Wojcik said he and Father Lewinski have spent the past 10 months learning about the department, what it does and how it works.
“The programs are undeniably, by and large, very good, very well thought out and executed,” he said. “But are they are life-giving for the parishes? We talked with pastors and parish staff, and they would say that on a given day, they’d get messages from three offices saying, ‘You should do this.’ They would ask, ‘What’s the priority?'”
“Going forward, we will be focusing more on providing resources than providing programs,” Father Lewinski said. “And a lot of times, those resources will be people.”
That means, for example, that a pastor whose parish demographics are changing could call and ask for help coming up with ways to evangelize that will resonate with the people moving into the neighborhood. To succeed, the people in all the offices in the department will have to collaborate with one another, with parishes and with members of the vicariate teams, including new coordinators of parish vitality and coordinators of lifelong formation.
The reorganized department includes most of what was the Department of Parish Life and Formation, which was organized into 11 different offices. The new department groups those functions into four offices. The new offices are:
— Office for New Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, which will include New Evangelization and Biblical Formation.
— Lifelong Formation, which will include the offices of Marriage and Family Ministry, Catechesis and Youth Ministry and Young Adult Ministry.
— Divine Worship.
— Human Dignity and Solidarity, which will include Respect Life, Immigrant Affairs and Immigration Education, Peace and Justice, Kolbe House jail ministry and the Amate House volunteer program.
“If you look at those four offices, they are designed to support our lifelong journey as Christians,” Father Wojcik said. “We are evangelized and we are formed in the faith, we experience Christ in the sacraments and the expression of our union with Christ is in our service to others.”
The Special Religious Education Program, or SPRED, will continue its current form, and the Missions Office will become part of the Office of Stewardship and Development. At the same time, the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission will include people to provide non-core services, including communications, event planning and financial administration to all of its offices in the new department, freeing up staff members to focus on their areas of expertise.
“Last year, before the catechetical gathering, everyone in the catechesis office spent the last three weeks doing nothing but event planning,” Father Wojcik said. “We couldn’t do any ministry. And with all of the offices, we have a lot of events.”
Because of the significant changes in the department, all of the staff job descriptions are changing. Current staff members have been asked to apply and interview for positions in the new structure.
“What we want people to say is, ‘I’m free to work with this mission. What is it that particular vicariate needs from us?'” Father Wojcik said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Am I really up for that?'”
The department is providing help with practice interviews and other materials, the priest said, and also included a 10-week lead time between the announcement of the changes and their Aug.1 effective date to allow employees who leave as much time as they could to make new plans.
Although the employees he has spoken with are anxious about the process, most agree that changes themselves are overdue.
“We maybe got a little bit complacent, maybe a little bit self-satisfied,” he said. “This can be an opportunity for a new evangelization and a new model of church. It’s a revitalization of mission.”
Father Lewinski said the department has learned from the experiences of several other dioceses, and now hopes to become a leader in a new way of helping the church grow and thrive.
“We have to be just as much a student of the culture as a student of the Bible,” he said. “How do we interpret the signs of the times to provide meaning in people’s lives? That’s what this is about.”
Martin is a staff writer at the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.