On Tuesday of this week, I was in the Diocese of Rochester, New York conducting a workshop on the pastoral care of culturally diverse parish communities. Roughly 45 diocesan and parish pastoral leaders, including about a dozen priests and deacons and a handful of volunteers, participated in the workshop. The topic was especially pertinent for the diocese at this time for several reasons:
- The number of parishes in the diocese has been nearly cut in half since 2000 through a process of mergers and closings. The pastoral leaders are looking for effective ways to unite the various communities and ethnic ministries in the new parish structures.
- The diocese recently opened an office for multicultural ministry, which is currently in the process of forming commissions and doing pastoral planning for each of its largest ethnic communities.
- The first of these pastoral plans—for Hispanic ministry—was completed last year and is now moving into the implementation phase.
- Part of the implementation calls for increasing knowledge and skills for intercultural ministry among all pastoral leaders in the diocese, irrespective of their own racial or ethnic heritage.
A fruit of Fe y Vida’s reflection on structures for ministry
Instituto Fe y Vida was founded 19 years ago today (Happy Birthday!), and one of our primary concerns since day one has been the lack of openness in many parishes to starting a second youth ministry group or program for Spanish-speaking Latino jóvenes (single youth and young adults, ages 16 to 30). The fear on the part of many pastors and youth ministry leaders has been that creating a second youth group in the parish would create or perpetuate divisions in the community. The result for many years has been an expectation that all the youth of the parish should form a single community. This approach worked well for some, but it left many others feeling excluded or unwelcome because they just did not fit in socially with most of the group. It was not until the National Study of Youth and Religion published its first set of findings in 2005 that most Catholic youth ministry leaders at the national level came to understand that the current parish structures for youth ministry were not reaching the vast majority of our young Catholics.
In this context, the solution of forming a community of communities for youth ministry makes perfect sense. This concept is illustrated in the following diagram:
At the center of the “community of communities” structure for parish youth ministry is a leadership team of youth and adults, whose composition reflects the cultural diversity of the parish itself, and whose task is threefold: 1) to uphold the vision for youth ministry in the parish; 2) to collaborate in a continual process of pastoral planning and evaluation as a response to the pastoral needs of all the young people in the parish; and 3) to form and resource the coordinators of each small community or ministry. In most cases, the coordinators themselves would be members of the leadership core team.
The communities that are formed may be more or less ethnically diverse, depending on the nature and purpose of the group. For example, a Bible-study group conducted in Spanish would be formed entirely by Hispanic youth and young adults, but a Confirmation class in English may or may not reflect the overall diversity in the parish, depending on local needs. Since most youth ministry programs are seen as optional activities by today’s Catholic teenagers, young people will gravitate toward groups they feel comfortable in, where they can reflecting on the faith from the perspective of their own sociocultural reality with other young people who share that experience. However, the various youth groups and communities in the parish are not entirely independent or separate from one another—they are united by the leadership core team; by working toward a set of common objectives defined by the goals for youth ministry and the parish pastoral plan; and by collaborating on occasional large-group events and projects to discuss important topics, celebrate the liturgy, or for events of interest to the whole youth community of the parish.
Extending the concept to the whole parish in culturally diverse settings
About five years ago, I was invited to analyze the findings of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project from the perspective of ministry in culturally diverse parishes. The final report of that analysis provided a pastoral framework for understanding the parish itself as a community of communities. This concept was not new—the Latin American bishops have been using this exact phrase to describe parish ministry at least since the Fourth General Conference of Latin American Bishops at Santo Domingo in 1992, and John Paul II described the parish as “a community of communities and movements” in his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America in 1999 (no. 41). However, the idea that the parish could be structured this way as a pathway to easing tensions and facilitating evangelization in culturally diverse settings was new.
After the National Ministry Summit at which this pastoral framework was presented for the first time, Fe y Vida’s Research Center began to receive invitations to conduct workshops for priests and pastoral leaders across the country. While the pastoral framework proved to be robust and helpful, it lacked a solid theological foundation. Thus began a process of research and reflection to articulate the theology of the parish as a community of communities, culminating in November 2011, when Instituto Fe y Vida hosted a National Colloquium on the Parish as a Community of Communities at the Washington Theological Union.
Organization and content of the workshop
The workshops can be accommodated to the local needs for either a one-day or a two-day process. The two-day process allows for more interaction among the participants and a limited amount of pastoral visioning and planning for local parish responses, while the one-day workshop consists mostly of presentation and dialog regarding the core concepts. Either way, the workshop is structured in five sessions with the following content:
- The Parish as Church: Ecclesiology and its implications for parish ministry. This session explores the ecclesiology of Vatican II as it applies to the life and work of the parish. Once the participants acquire a theological foundation for their understanding of the parish, it becomes possible to expand their vision for the diversity of ways it can be organized to carry out its mission and ministry in culturally diverse settings.
- What is Culture? Finding common ground for ministry. Basic concepts from cultural studies are presented and discussed, with an explanation of what happens when people of different cultural origins come together and begin to interact with one another (acculturation). Particular consideration is given to family dynamics when immigrant parents are raising children in a cultural setting that is not their own, and the implications for pastoral care and faith formation.
- Inculturation: Exploring the call to mission and ministry in culturally diverse parishes. Building on the concepts presented in the first two sessions, the U.S. bishops’ guidelines for the pastoral care of immigrants and cultural groups are discussed in light of the theology of inculturation.
- Models of Parish Ministry: Assessing the cultural landscape and organizing for mission. Participants are given tools to expand their vision of the ethnic and cultural make-up of their own parish community. They are then given two paradigms and six models for parish ministry that can be adopted and adapted to match the needs of the local community to the cultural and linguistic skills of its leadership team.
- Ministry in Culturally Diverse Parishes: The theology and practice of a “community of communities” approach. Returning to the foundational theology of the parish presented in the first session, the participants gain insights into how the theological vision of the parish informs pastoral practice in culturally diverse communities, with a special look at how youth ministry can adapt to the challenge of diversity without harming unity in the process.
If you are interested in discussing how this workshop could fit the need for continuing formation in your diocese, please contact us at any time. Also, if you have enjoyed reading this post, please take a moment to share it with others below or write us a note. You are invited to send us your name and email address by using the form in the left-hand column of this page, so that we can keep you informed with our latest updates. As always, feel free to contact us to explore how Instituto Fe y Vida’s Research and Resource Center can help you understand the pastoral needs in your community or overcome the challenges you are experiencing. ¡Paz y bien a todos!