Creative ways to lead parishes

Ideas from an international conference on pastoral leadership.

Affirmation for lay pastoral leaders and the new perspective they bring to the church has come from an international conference in the United States which looked at new models of pastoral leadership.

Creative ways to lead parishes Archdiocese of Wellington I had done three years of research into the conference in Orlando, Florida, but I was still apprehensive about attending. I need not have worried. This conference was one of the best I have ever attended. I travelled with Pastoral Services director, Lorraine McArthur. Palmerston North Diocesan Pastoral Services Team manager, Mark Richards, was also there.

The immediate value for Lorraine and me came from a workshop on Canon 517.2 which governs the model of lay pastoral leadership undertaken in the archdiocese. It was clear that where lay leaders and parishes are well prepared, this model works extremely well. Lay pastoral leaders are well received; they bring a new perspective to the church, and the relationship between the priest in sacramental ministry and the lay pastoral leader is crucial to the success of this form of ministry.

The workshop also stressed the importance of drawing on the gifts of both laity and clergy to serve in leadership roles within parishes; improving and strengthening the relationship between lay pastoral leaders, priests in sacramental ministry and priests with canonical responsibility; further clarifying the liturgical role of lay pastoral leaders; creating possibilities for funding for lay pastoral leaders; providing education about Canon 517.2 to the Catholic population at large; developing education on Canon 517.2 for seminaries that includes training in collaborative models of leadership and in the development of skills for working as a team.

Canon 517.2 is seen as a positive response to the challenge to provide sound pastoral leadership while simultaneously experiencing a shortage of priests. It affirms the importance of the ordained priesthood while using the gifts of lay people in the pastoral care of parishes. It makes for intriguing possibilities as this emerging model of leadership continues to develop.

In general the goals of the conference were:

  • To provide solid research in the emerging models of parish pastoral leadership;
  • To stimulate a national conversation about the use of pastoral imagination to create vibrant parishes;
  • To explore ways in which national associations can collaborate to serve the church.

This conference was for all pastoral leadership in the United States and was the result of four years of research into new models of leadership and service in the church. Nothing was left untouched. The scope of the conference included the National Federation of Priests, the Young Adult Ministry Association, the National Association of Lay Ministry, the Association of Diaconate Directors, the Association of Church Personnel Administrators and the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development. Attendees numbered 1 200. Plenty of hunting ground here!

The conference was a series of keynote speeches and workshops.
The keynotes were:

  • Bishop Blasé Cupich presented ‘The Theological, Sacramental and Ecclesial Context of the Emerging Models’.
  • Ms Marti Jewell looked at ‘Major Findings of the Emerging Models Project’.
  • Sr Terri Monroe RSCJ discussed ‘Being an Effective and Responsible Agent for Change’.
  • Robert Schreiter CPPS presented ‘Pastoral Leadership: Moving into the Future’. (All keynote speeches are available on DVD from the Pastoral Services office and in text form, with findings of the research, on the website:

After the conference we made very good use of our time by visiting the dioceses of Baltimore and San Bernardino. Both have been using Canon 517.2 for several years. We were able to see how the model works in its maturity.

I would especially like to acknowledge and thank the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of Wellington for its generous support of this venture.
Joan McFetridge has spent eight years developing and directing the archdiocesan leadership formation programme, Launch Out.
Picture: Joyce Drake from San Bernardino, Lorraine McArthur and Joan McFetridge.