The Pastoral Plan bears fruit in local parishes

By Kira Ciupek
Correspondent

What happens when the Austin Diocese’s Pastoral Plan gets into the hands of an energetic priest and an excited pastoral council eager to transform their parish through opportunities to experience “an encounter with Christ”? The result is a six-year road map with tangible outcomes, developed in 2015 by Father John Kim and the 12-member Pastoral Council at Christ the King Parish in Belton. 
Father Kim and the council addressed more than 10 goals and initiatives presented in the diocesan Pastoral Plan, adapting them to the distinctive needs and demographics of their parish. The resulting parish plan is based on a vision for the future growth of Christ the King, which is located in rapidly developing Bell County, the 16th largest Texas county according to Bell County government statistics, and home to Fort Hood with more than 50,000 troops.
Initiated by Bishop Joe Vásquez in 2013 along with a Core Team and the Essential Conversations consultant team, the diocesan Pastoral Plan’s first goal is to “develop a spiritual formation strategy that fosters encounter by awakening faith, engaging the heart and transforming believers.” Fulfilling this goal for Christ the King has included a strategy of implementing “a coherent formation program,” which emphasizes “personal encounter with Jesus Christ in our daily mundane life.” The result of their strategic efforts has been the growth of a new Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program, thriving youth and adult formation programs based on Ascension Press curriculum, and a new ACTS Retreat emphasis.
Father Kim and Christ the King of Belton have put their own spin on another Pastoral Plan Initiative, “Spiritual Formation of the Faithful,” by highlighting prayer as a key to personal transformation. The Christ the King Parish Plan has designated 2017 as “the year of prayer,” and focuses on “First Fridays” during which families are encouraged to pray together in their homes, based on suggested prayers printed in the weekly bulletins. Additionally, during Lent, Christ the King is offering opportunities to form small groups for prayer, while encouraging individuals to deepen their personal prayer life with resources distributed via e-mails to parishioners.
Among the tangible outcomes of the parish plan is the completion of their goal to “secure financial stability” by paying the $1.3 million building debt. The 20-year loan was paid four years earlier than anticipated, and a “Debt-Free Celebration” parish-wide party was held in 2015, with nearly 400 Christ the King parishioners participating.
“It’s never too late to incorporate the Pastoral Plan in your parish,” said Charlene O’Connell, member of the Pastoral Plan Core Team. “At any point a parish can study the plan, implement it and evaluate its results.”
Missionary of St. Paul Father Basil Aguzie, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Austin, decided to assess their annual Advent Renewal held in December 2016 using the Pastoral Plan as a template. He did so using three of the diocesan Pastoral Plan goals: Spiritual Formation of the Faithful, Developing a Culture of Collaborative Ministry and Strengthening Outreach.
“Faith renewal is our main goal so that as many as possible will have an encounter with Christ is some special way,” Father Aguzie said.
Johnnie Dorsey, a member of Holy Cross Parish since 1976, said the Advent Revival, “prepares us for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It brings us together as a community to worship outside of the Sunday worship. In addition to bringing us together as a family, it enhances our spirituality. We all periodically need to have our batteries recharged as far as our faith is concerned.”
Collaborative Ministry goals for the event, which has been an annual event for more than 20 years, were met by encouraging the collaboration of various church ministries.
“We sent out communications to all of the church ministries asking them to coordinate food and drink for each evening of the Revival,” Father Aguzie said. “This encourages and builds unity between the ministries as they provide meals for those in attendance. This also creates a working relationship between the ministries.”
The three-day event held in 2016 featured Father Anthony Bozeman from the Archdiocese of New Orleans and drew 125 parishioners nightly. In retrospect, Father Aguzie said the event met the diocesan Pastoral Plan goals of teaching people how to pray, inspiring people to participate in the sacraments and educating families about their role as the domestic church.
“When you look at the families involved, I felt that bond, as families were coming together,” said Dorsey, who has served as the diocesan director of the Office of Black Catholics since 1987. “On the final night we have a healing service. If someone feels they have a physical or spiritual need, they are asked to come forth. Generally, the majority of the parish will come forth and then Father Aguzie and the guest evangelist will pray over them. The encounter changes people. It opens the door for healing.”http://www.austindioceseplan.org
For more information on the diocesan Pastoral Plan, visit www.austindioceseplan.org.