Belleville diocese looks to combine worship services, outreach

News-DemocratNovember 11, 2013 

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Combining social groups, sharing missions and alternating priests are a few of the ways Catholic parishes are making the most of partnerships that were outlined in April as part of the Pastoral Plan for Parish Renewal and Restructuring.

The "best practices" are examples of how two or more parishes are working together to combine worship services, faith formation, outreach and administration, according to a list compiled by the Catholic Diocese of Belleville.

For example, some best practices are combining Mass schedules for holy days, holding joint programs for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and partnering for various socials and dinners.

Each of the 43 best practice items are being performed by at least one parish partnership. "Most are being done by several partnerships," said Monsignor John Myler, spokesman for the diocese and the rector at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville.

The best practices were compiled from the Sept. 15 reports submitted by the partnerships to Bishop Edward K. Braxton.

"The best practices have come directly from the parishes themselves," Myler said. "These are the positive ideas that have already been implemented in partnerships. Some of the practices have been in effect for several years; other best practices have resulted from the thoughtful planning that has developed as the people of several parishes have come together during these last months of planning."

Other best practices include: celebrating sacraments like Confirmation and Reconciliation services together, merging marriage preparation sessions, combining youth ministries, and having one director of music and liturgy for both parishes.

In Belleville, St. Teresa of the Child Jesus Parish is partnered with St. Luke's Church.

"We're kind of in the process of working out ways we can combine things and share activities," said Scott Pluff, the director of music and liturgy at St. Teresa. His position includes a slew of parish duties including choosing music for Masses, overseeing five choirs, and recruiting, training and scheduling for servers and Eucharistic ministers.

One of the best practices is to share music coordinators and choirs.

"On Thanksgiving morning, we're having one Thanksgiving Mass for both parishes together at St. Luke's, so both choirs will be performing together," he said. "Every year, when we celebrate Confirmation, we do that as one combined Mass for Confirmation, so we combine choirs for that."

St. Teresa and St. Luke have overlapping weekend Mass schedules currently, but talks are underway to stagger those times.

"Now their two Masses overlap with services here, so we have things happening simultaneously," Pluff said. "It's been discussed, so one priest can say all the weekend Masses."

Changing Mass times is in the preliminary process, and they have decided to not change any times this year, Pluff said.

"We're looking for opportunities to work together," Pluff said.

The parish partnerships have been meeting regularly in all parts of the diocese since the partnerships were announced earlier this year, said Myler. Usually, the meetings include pastors or parish administrators, parish staff members, parish lay trustees, and members of parish councils.

"In most cases, each partnership has had about six meetings," Myler said. "By the end of the calendar year, the partnerships will forward their strategic plans to Bishop Edward Braxton."

Those reports are due Dec. 31 and will explain how the partnerships already are working together. In addition, they will answer how they plan to handle worship services, faith formation, outreach and administration in the future when they have only one priest serving the partnership.

Myler said there is no set time for partnerships to be served by one priest.

"It could be six months from now or six years from now," he said.

When Braxton introduced the Pastoral Plan, he encouraged the partnerships to pray for guidance: "As we proceed with the Pastoral Plan, it is important to remain rooted in the Gospel," he said. "As we reflect on the specific realities that make up our individual parishes (and the partnerships), only with prayer will we be able to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit ... and dispose ourselves to the sacrifices we may be called upon to make for the good of our parishes and the good of the Church in Southern Illinois."

Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at mhasenstab@bnd.com or 618-239-2460.

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