Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The Diocesan Pastoral Council: Moving ahead"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the April 7, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

On Saturday, March 12, the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) met at St. Augustine Parish in Spokane. The council gathers four times a year, from Friday evening beginning with supper until approximately 3 p.m. Saturday. Usually there is a thematic approach to the meeting, discussing issues such as liturgy, evangelization, faith formation, community. There are approximately 20 members of the council from various parishes in the diocese with a term of three years, renewable once.

The meeting in mid-March was unique in the sense that representatives from the parishes themselves along with the DPCwere asked to gather for a day to discuss two discernment topics. The topic of discussion looked at how the diocese and/or the DPC could be more helpful in helping to pastoral councils in local parishes be more effective. What are some of the challenging issues?

The second topic was to discuss the possibility of a diocesan convocation in the year 2007, 10 years after our last one in 1997. Those who were at the gathering then remember the high energy and enthusiasm of that event.

About 60 persons attended the meeting at St. Augustine Parish. The discussion was lively, with several suggestions made about the needs of our Church. This is how I summarized the results of the discussion on the first topic:

• There was general agreement that we need to find better ways of communicating the work of the Church. The comments ranged all the way from the need to share minutes of parish councils on the local level to how best communicate the minutes of the DPC. There was discussion about how diocesan pastoral council members might interface with the local councils. This meeting at St. Augustine Parish was a good first step.
• The need for continuing formation for parish councils was expressed, especially since the regular turnover in parish councils makes for a new learning experience for the new members. Some parish councils work very well, while others are not used very effectively. Perhaps a special daylong workshop would be helpful, to be scheduled every year. In addition, as a diocese we need to do continuing formation in helping people to appreciate their gifts and share them generously with their faith communities. Too frequently only the same people are involved. The challenge is to assist parishioners in appreciating that we are called to be servants as disciples of Jesus.
• The issue of diversity provided plenty of opportunity for discussion. We have the diversity of ethnic backgrounds in the diocese, although the city of Spokane itself is a very white city. Other areas of diversity are the cultural diversity in general of the different parts of the diocese. For example, Walla Walla would be different from Spokane. Larger city parishes would be quite different from a small rural one. There are also the ideological splits that must be addressed with a need for respect and dialogue with one another. There is the small rural parish that is struggling to survive financially, to larger parishes that have little or no difficulty in supporting their ministries. The challenge is to appreciate our diversity and make sure it does not become a source of division.
• Considerable discussion revolved around the transition of pastors for parish communities. This is especially true for small rural communities where transition of parish leadership occurs more frequently. Every priest has his own gifts, talents and personality. What can we do to assist in a smooth period of transition of pastoral leadership with a sensitivity to the history of the parish and the skill required to foster and build up a community of faith especially during periods of transition?
• The continued development of parishes as communities of faith presents a challenge. In addition, the parish’s relationship outside of itself with the diocese and the Church universal speaks to the need to constantly address our solidarity as Catholics with one another. We must be aware of today’s realities – mobility, complex and full lives, and a weakening commitment to the common good, among others – as we strive to strengthen communities and assist them in being truly vibrant, alive, engaging and generous.
• The assembly strongly supported the idea that we are in fact a pilgrim Church, a community of faith. The Church through the centuries has grappled with what it meant to be Church in the contemporary culture. The reality of building and strengthening a community of faith will always be a challenge.
• Finally, strong support was expressed about the needs of our youth and how we serve them as adults. These are not easy days for young people. Although we may look to them as the future of the Church, the important fact is that they are Church right now. The group at St. Augustine Parish was not satisfied with how we support youth ministry in general. This is a very important need in the Church. Youth ministry needs to be kept as a high priority.

Regarding the second topic of a convocation in the near future, there was strong support for a convocation in 2007 although that support was tempered by the reality of whether or not we would be able to financially support such a gathering. We will have to make a decision about this matter rather soon.

All in all, I felt our gathering of the DPC and representatives from the parishes to have been very worthwhile. We now will have to see how we can implement the suggestions and good ideas as we look to the future.

Blessings and peace to all.

Bishop Skylstad’s Schedule

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