All 188 current parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which include 225 church buildings, have been placed into 49 proposed groupings of parishes. The clergy and On Mission teams of volunteers recently reviewed the proposals in 21 district meetings.
A number of parishes are holding town hall-style meetings and completing online surveys to provide the feedback, which is due June 8th. The On Mission Commission and its steering committees, comprised of 80-plus lay leaders, clergy and religious members will study all input and offer recommendations to Bishop David Zubik in the fall.
After consultation with advisory boards and prayerful discernment, Bishop Zubik will announce clergy assignments and final groupings of parishes in the spring of 2018. Implementation will begin in the fall of 2018 and is expected to take several years to complete.
Launched in April 2015, On Mission for The Church Alive! is a diocesan-wide program in which Catholics are invited to envision how our parishes, schools, and ministries can best respond to the changes in our communities and be vital centers of worship and service, and how people can deepen their relationship with Jesus.
The goals are to provide more vibrant liturgies, invigorate faith formation, strengthen school and parish partnerships, increase participation of the faithful in the life of the Church, and boldly proclaim Christ in word and action.
“We are talking about transformative change, redesigning and mobilizing our parishes for the mission,” Bishop Zubik said. “As in the earliest days of the Church, we must utilize every means possible to take the message of Jesus’ love to everyone.”
All priests and deacons will begin their assignments in parishes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and correctional institutions at the same time in the fall of 2018. Pastors will be given “blueprints” to assist them in the implementation process, including the number of Masses for each grouping of parishes, estimated staffing needs, a process for combining pastoral and finance councils, development of common ministry programs, and a timeline for merging parishes.
The parameters will allow the pastor to evaluate the needs of the new parish, build relationships with parishioners and staff, and customize plans to the local situation.
The parish groupings will help accommodate the declining number of diocesan priests, from 210 priests currently serving in active ministry to a projected 112 priests by 2025. At this time, 44 diocesan priests are serving past the retirement age of 70, and another 42 priests are eligible to retire in the next five years.
More than 27,000 parishioners attended 329 parish consultation meetings last fall, offering feedback on changes taking place across the diocese. One-third were most concerned with the 40 percent decline in sacramental participation from 2000- 2015; one-third cited the aging population in parishes; and the remainder said their main concern was the increasing demands on clergy and lay staff.
“How do we call forth the gifts of every baptized person, inviting them into a deeper relationship with Jesus and His people?” Bishop Zubik asked in describing his vision of The Church Alive. “Personal transformation always begins with a change in mindset.”