Parishes receive coaching to move ‘from maintenance to mission’

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Parish leaders gather at their table Oct. 3, 2018, to discuss evangelization during the third day of the Renew My Church Summit. at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. On this day, the coaching portion of Renew My Church was introduced to the newly formed parishes. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

To read this article in Spanish, click here

As parishes move into the “building the new reality” phase of Renew My Church, pastors must figure out how to build a core leadership team to help the parish become a more outward-looking, evangelizing community.

It’s not always easy, pastors said, to know who should be on the team or to know how to work with them. That’s where coaching from Divine Renovation comes.

Divine Renovation is one of the organizations the archdiocese has partnered with to help parishes move “from maintenance to mission.”

“We don’t know what we’re doing with this,” said Father Ryszard Gron, pastor of St. William Parish. “But they do.”

His coach is a deacon based in Arkansas who is working with several other parishes in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

“They have the experience,” Gron said.

While most parishes’ core leadership teams include mostly staff or a combination of staff and volunteers, Gron’s core leadership team includes the principal of St. William School and three lay volunteers.

“We’re a small parish, so we really don’t have staff to do this,” he said.

In most cases, Divine Renovation coaches have online meetings both with the pastor on his own and with the parish’s core leadership team. At St. William, the meetings have gone from every week, alternating between individual meetings and team meetings, to twice a month.

“We prepare the team to take more responsibility,” Gron said.

Vincentian Father Jeremy Dixon, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, said he and his core leadership team are working on a similar schedule and on similar issues. Both pastors said their coaches have helped them internalize the archdiocesan vision of renewing the church and make it their own.

“How do we want to work on building up a different culture in this parish?” Dixon said. “What do we want it to be? How do we engage more with the broader community, and engage the people whom are already here to take more ownership of their faith?”

Marco Oropeza, chief project management officer for the archdiocese’s Department of Parish Vitality and Mission, said the first thing Divine Renovation coaches do is help the pastor discern whom to invite to be part of the core leadership team. They’re looking for a well-balanced group with a mix of strengths and skills.

Then, as they work through the first steps of becoming a more missionary parish, the coach helps them learn how best to work together.

“They spend time on toxic versus healthy conflict and how to make space for healthy conflict,” Oropeza said. “I think many times people might be afraid to challenge the status quo and that creates space for healthy discussions to move the parish forward.”

For some pastors, there’s an “aha moment” the first time they realize there’s a question they cannot answer or problem they cannot solve, and they need the help of their teams.

The availability of coaching was one thing that drew the archdiocese to Divine Renovation when it was looking for an organization to partner with, Oropeza said.

“A transformation of this magnitude requires long-term support,” he said, noting that coaching relationships are expected to last a year or two at each parish. “And they have a history of helping parishes to move from maintenance to mission.”

Father Francis Bitterman, pastor of St. Josaphat Parish, said his relationship with his Divine Renovation coach is similar to Gron’s, with two teleconferences a month.

Bitterman also participates in an online mentoring program with Father James Mallon, the Canadian priest who started Divine Renovation.

The videoconferences include discussions of topics raised by Mallon, and what’s been working or not working in their parishes. “It provides a helpful best practices type of session,” Bitterman said. “As pastors, we learn from each other as we each move through the Divine Renovation process.”

Gron, whose parish is now in its third year of Renew My Church, said the process has started to bear fruit. In a parish of 600 families, more than 550 people have requested key cards to access the 24-hour eucharistic adoration chapel, which opened this past summer, he said.

“We have more volunteers, more people involved,” he said. “We have two Alpha programs going. Even our collections are starting to increase. … Everything we have done has surprised us. We see only from a distance how the Holy Spirit works.”



  • renew my church

Related Articles