26Jan Devise a 2014 Plan for your parish

Happy New Year! January is a good time for rest from the pastoral scene, but also a time for preparing for the year just begun. Just as nature rests and heals in winter, so pastoral people can use this time productively in planning for the year ahead.

You will have your own priorities in your parish. Some priorities however are common to every place. May I suggest a few that strike me, with the aim of addressing one each month. Every parish coordinating body has its own priorities, but sometimes it is good to introduce a general topic to broaden discussion: so that the urgent does not always trump the important.

In pastoral terms, the months where most is accomplished are probably February to May/June and September to December. Might I suggest you place subjects like those that follow on your pastoral council agendas in these months? You won’t exhaustively tackle issues arising within the month, but a few interested parishioners may take on the challenges which arise and take the matter further with the help of people with the appropriate talents for the work. A report back to subsequent parish body meetings will keep in parishioners’ minds the issues raised.

February: Care of the Sick. World Day of the Sick on 11 February is a reminder that people who are sick, whether for a few weeks or for an extended term, deserve the thoughts and prayers of the parish. When we are well, we parishioners pray with the local church for the sick: when we ourselves are sick, parishioner pray with the local church for us. Our parish is not just a building we support financially, it is the community of believers we are part of. An part of the quid pro pro for our support, is that we receive support when we need it.

The basic question is: in your parish, are the sick remembered? Are they visited? Is the sacrament of anointing of the sick easily available? (Occasional communal services may help remind all of its benefits.) Can sick and housebound people receive Communion every Sunday? IS there anything else you can do to keep the needs of sick people before your parish?

March: Renewing the ministries. Lent can be a time of retreat for Ministers of the Word and of Holy Communion. The season provides the impetus to deepen the spirituality of those involved. Might this also be the time to recruit and form new ministers? How many years have your current ministers served? Have they been appointed for a term or for infinity? (If you have anyone in the same ministry situation for over 20 years, perhaps it is time they received a papal medal — and a rest!) There may be a limited pool of talent for each ministry but ministries should rotate: perhaps Lent is an opportune to consider refreshing your ministry teams?

April: Liturgy Group? April 2014 brings Easter, which means there is an Easter Triduum to be planned in every parish. If your parish doesn’t have a fixed liturgy group, why not bring together an ad hoc group to plan the triduum? Think carefully who to invite: this group may, with formation and encouragement, mutate into a regular liturgy preparation group for other events through the year.

May/June: Communications. The Seventh Sunday of Easter is called Communication Sunday and provides a selection of challenges to every parish: newsletter, website, facebook page, twitter account? Few parishes use all the means of communication effectively, which means a review could always be beneficial, particularly if those with skills in these areas could be coaxed on board (often young people). One communications project a year may bring new life to your community.

September: First Communion/Confirmation programmes. The start of the school year is the time to start thinking of the sacraments school children will be celebrating. Many models are available in which school, parents and children prepare together for the sacraments (eg the Do This in Memory programme for First Communion in Ireland). With a help of a few parents in each case, begin the planning process as soon as possible after the school opens. Enrolment and/or commitment services could then be organized early in the new school year — and schedules agreed for the year.

October: Scriptures. Taking my cue from St Jerome (whose feast days falls just around the start of the month, and who famously branded ignorance of the scriptures as ignorance of Christ), I ask what is happening in your parish to introduce people to the scriptures and deepen their knowledge of them. Perhaps it is time to think of a weekly lectio divina group, or perhaps there is a handbook which a group of interested parishioners could follow to broaden their knowledge of the scriptures. St Matthew’s feast falls in September, so perhaps the ‘Year of Matthew’ might provide the springboard for scripture study linked to the Sunday gospels during this year.

November: The dead. Everything in nature and life conspires to being death to the fore in November, so it is a time to re-evaluate how your parish deals with death. How are funerals organized – can they be improved? Are lay parishioners involved in planning and even leading some of these liturgies? Are those whose anniversaries occur remembered every Sunday? Do people know how to arrange this? Is there a November liturgy for those who died in the past year — and those who mourn? Are the bereaved catered for?

December: children. Involving children in Advent and Christmas liturgies is easy, with just a little planning. Nativity pageants and carol services are part of the culture’s expectations of Christmas. Perhaps this is the time to ask whether children’s involvement might carry on into the new year, at weekend liturgies: as altar servers (suitable trained and commissioned — and rewarded), readers of the bidding prayers, bringers forward of the brad and wine at the Presentation of the Gifts, members of a children’s choir, planners of children’s liturgies etc.

Hand in hand with this involvement , the end of the year might be a time to check the parish’s child safeguarding procedures.

January 2015: Review and plan for 2015. Once your year of planning and launching new initiatives is over, sit back and relax and review the year. Did your achieve as much as you hoped, or more? What is worth carrying on into 2015, and what can be parked for the time being?

Reflect, evaluate, reward effort, including your own: God is with you!

3 Responses

  1. Margaret Trench

    Great ideas here.
    Our parish council continually struggles to find new plans and ideas.
    This certainly will serve as a great framework.

  2. Kathleen Faley

    The month of January should not be overlooked when it comes to designating it for a special spiritual emphasis because during the month of January from 18th-25th there is the Church’s celebration of Church Unity Week – a week that largely comes and goes without any real emphasis on what Church Unity Week is all about. The Ecumenical aspect is rarely hightlighted to the laity in far flung parishes with the exception of some effort being made in towns and cities to bring together Christians of different Christian denominations to celebrate what is and can be celebrated in common by all denominations together.

    For July and August,even though they are regarded as summer holiday months I would suggest a special designation of those months for married persons and single persons respectively. Apart from the obligatory Pre-Marriage Course that engaged couples have to complete before they get married and Accord for those married couples who experience marital difficulties afterwards the vast majority of married couples are not accorded any time of special prayer during the ongoing decades of their married lives. In some diocese’ and churches they may be celebrations for couples who are married for forty years or more and couples celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries may have a Mass celebrated to mark the occasion but that is a private and family gathering. Married couples are acknowledged under other headings such as parents, grandparents, widow or widower when their spouse dies but otherwise they are acknowledged only as parishioners in general in the Parish Community.

    When a young couple marries in a parish it is rarely mentioned for inclusion in the Prayers of the Faithful the following Sunday as is a person who had died during the week and she or he has the future wellbeing of their soul prayed for by the parish community. Shouldn’t the recently married couple also be included in the Prayers of the Faithful and have their future good health, happiness, peace and prosperity prayed for by the parish community.

    For the Month of August single persons should have their particular needs prayed for by the parish community. Any isolation or loneliness that they may be experiencing could be addressed during that month of prayer for them.

  3. Mary O Vallely

    Thanks very much to Bernard Cotter for this food for reflection. I think we could do with much more of this on the site, emphasising the good and positive work that goes on in so many parishes.Isn’t it so easy to get bogged down in negativity. :-(
    We all need to learn from each other. What might work well in one parish mightn’t necessarily work so well in another, of course, but it is good to hear what others do successfully and to share ideas. Proves we are alive at least and open to the Spirit! :-)


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