success stories

Models for Alternative Staffing

by Rev. Joseph Lynch, S.M.

Group Process Consultant
The Brooklyn Diocesan Office of Cluster Planning & Collaboration

I think the first time I heard the word “cluster” used was in the 1987 publication of the National Pastoral Life Center entitled, “Alternative Staffing of Parishes”. It was a result of a national survey dioceses that culminated in a symposium. As we have said; previously, the “relevant question” for clustering needs to be continuously addressed lest people lose the sense of urgency and return to “business as usual”.

1. Origins of the Challenge and Patterns of Response

The basic challenge is seen as how to provide leadership and ministry that is adequate in numbers and quality. “The Notre Dame Study of Parish Life” confirmed the fact that the majority of those who exercise leadership for parish activities are lay parishioners themselves. Those who hold formal positions on staff were expected to insure the authenticity and efficacy of parish ministry. This, of course, clearly indicated that the major role of paid staff in the future would be the training and development of lay ministers. This challenge, that occurs to us, occurs at a time when there is renewed theological legitimization of lay responsibility as well as growing numbers of lay people who wish to exercise some formal ministry in the Church. We are even now making distinctions like lay ecclesial ministers, pastoral associates and parish life coordinators. The paper goes on to name some things that are not happening in parishes around the staffing issue and some things that were beginning to happen.

2. What is not Happening in Dioceses

1. Dioceses are not ignoring the situation. They have opened up discussion about the future and are making projections.

2. Dioceses are not closing parishes. They are trying to respect existing communities.

3. Dioceses are not consolidating; parishes for the most part, though they may and should consolidate schools and some parish services.

4. Dioceses are not turning to retired priests to fill the gap. They are not generally turning to non-incardinated priests (although the east and west coasts of the United States do make extensive use of non-incardinated priests.)

3. What is Happening in Dioceses

1. Dioceses are reducing the number of priests in non-parochial ministry, especially chancery assignments.

2. Parishes have hired lay people and women religious for more parish ministries, including the position of “pastoral associate.”

3. More frequently dioceses assign a priest as pastor of more than one parish. This as been the most prevalent response to the diminishing number of priests. There are obvious problems to his, particularly the danger of wearing out priests.

4. Some dioceses have prepared people for Sunday Communion Services without a priest.

Most important and at the heart of the report, are the new models of parish staffing. We will describe the five models reported on in the paper. In advance, we should say that we have adopted the cluster model (model three in the report). As you probably will imagine, some of the other models do exist or might exist in the future. Whatever finally develops in the Diocese of Brooklyn can be folded into the cluster model quite well. The final configuration of our diocesan effort is not clear as yet.

Model #1 Multiparish Pastors

This situation arises when there are not enough pastors to assign to be pastors of all parishes in the Diocese. There are two variations in this model. In the first, each parish may have some full-time staff. The second involves no full-time ministers in the parishes. The pastor works directly with parishioners in each parish. In the report, one pastor says he could minister to three parishes in this way. In his present situation of pastor of two parishes, he has built ministry around creating small Christian Communities. We already have ten parishes living this first option of multiparish pastors. We also have a growing number of parishes with pastors who have another diocesan assignment.

Model #2 Multiparish Team

This second model, like the first, leaves distinct parishes intact, but assigns pastoral responsibility to a team. The team is composed of core ministers that organize ministry, and all team members serve all parishes. A very similar model exists in the newly formed Parish of the Resurrection in Jersey City. In that situation, five parish teams have come together to become one team serving all five pre-existing parish sites. There are now two religious education programs, one coordinated social outreach program, one business office and manager, and a myriad of other team based reconfigurations.

In the Diocese of Rochester, in the mid – 80's, four small parishes shared three priests. Because of retirements and sickness, all three were replaced by one pastor, and a team was created that serves all four parishes. The pastor at the time testified to increased activity in these parishes facing responsibility for their future.

Model #3 Parish Clusters

Emphasis in the cluster model is on common activities. Each parish retains separate identity, but parishes are “yoked” for joint effort. The cluster thrust comes from the principle of “pooled resources” (inadequate funds, shared staff, insufficient number of people to support a good program, avoidance of duplication in selected areas). In the Chicago Archdiocese, ten parishes joined together to hire ministry coordinators and business administrators. In a low-income neighborhood, the cluster hired:

- Lay Ministry Coordinator of Adult Formation & Spiritual Development

- Lay Minister Coordinator of Social Services

- Professional Educator who serves as Superintendent for nine elementary schools

- A Youth Minister

- A Director of Religious Education

- A Director of Lay Ministry Training

- An Accountant

Obviously, this is an example of a high amount of cluster activity and collaboration. This certainly is a “cluster plan.” The key in clustering is to continue to move toward working together as much as possible. This experiment reports that their cluster activity has given many people a much larger sense of Church as they work with other Catholics throughout the neighborhood.

Model #4 Parish Director

The fourth model involved a single parish without resident pastor and with no connections to any other parish. The parish director assumes all operational responsibility for the conduct, development and support of parish life, except for the celebrations of the sacraments, which are provided by a priest at the time when he can visit. The resident minister can be a deacon, a religious, or a professional lay minister. Small parishes that no longer can have a resident priest have supported the parish director as an improvement in their situation.

Model #5 Parishioner as Pastoral Leader

In this model the full-time pastoral leader of the parish is a parishioner who has assumed responsibility for the day-to-day pastoral care and administration of the parish. Often this person operates as part of a pastoral team of parishioners that takes full responsibility for the ministry of the parish.

We all know that some of the developments described above are already underway. Our hope is that our present clustering process could be helpful in facilitating any of the other four processes that might take place in the years to come.