Six months — half of the diocesan strategic planning process — was devoted to the local committees with lay and clergy representatives from each parish. That part of the process is now coming to a close, said Father Peter Muhich, who is chairing the process.
And with that, the diocese is one big step closer to the plan that will guide planning decisions for the next five years.
The local groups were arranged into five regional groups called deaneries, and they were given wide latitude to accept, modify or even scrap proposals for their deaneries that had been drawn up by a diocesan committee. Already the Cloquet, Duluth and Hibbing deaneries have submitted their responses. Those responses have been posted on the diocesan website.
That leaves the Virginia and Brainerd deaneries. “They are wrapping up, as well,” Father Muhich said.
“They all were able to add some insights and definitely, I think, improve the work that was done by the diocesan committee,” Father Muhich said. He said the proposals coming back from the deaneries are not drastically different from the drafts they began with but are definitely refined.
“There’s a few things we missed or got wrong,” he said of the initial proposals.
He said that while it appears all the deaneries will be able to reach consensus, in a couple of cases there will also be “minority reports” filed, giving individuals a chance to share some differences.
“We’re trying to be respectful of those differences,” he said.
The last deanery planning meetings are scheduled for September. They began meeting back in April. Parishes have also been asked to hold town hall meetings following the conclusion of the deanery part of the planning process, to explain the revised proposals and the reasoning behind decisions, to answer questions and to note any additional concerns, which would be passed on to the diocesan committee.
Father Muhich said the local conversations from his perspective have been handled respectfully and have been a blessing. “I think they’re taking this very seriously and doing a good job,” he said of the groups.
He cited one instance in a deanery committee meeting where most representatives were still locked into defending their “turf” until representatives of a relatively small parish that under the diocesan proposal would have only been clustered differently broke ranks. The representatives observed that members of another small parish, which, under the diocesan proposal, would be merged into a larger parish, had even longer drive times than their own, and that perhaps their own parish would be a better candidate to be merged into a larger parish.
Father Muhich said that spirit of being willing to sacrifice showed in the local planning process.
Once all the deanery responses have been received, the diocesan committee will pull that information together and pass it on to the diocesan Presbyteral Council, the group that represents the priests of the diocese and advises the bishop. The revised proposals will also be the major focus of the annual clergy conference this fall.
The Presbyteral Council will then make its recommendations to Bishop Paul Sirba toward the end of the year. He will take the whole process into consideration.
“He’ll be able to make any adjustments he sees necessary,” Father Muhich said.
Bishop Sirba will likely approve the final plan early next year.
However, with the end of one process, another will begin: the implementation process. Contrary to a popular misconception, the plan will not necessarily be acted on all at once. Rather, it will be implemented as needed over the next five years. That could mean implementing all of the plan or only part of it.
Father Muhich said the bishop is still considering how exactly the implementation process will work and who will advise him on it. Northern Cross