The voices of the faithful have resonated loudly and clearly at the Visioning Team meetings organized by Bishop Gregory Parkes. These voices include parishioners from across the Diocese of St. Petersburg who attended listening sessions and completed online surveys and the voices of priests, religious sisters, staff and ministry leaders who have spoken to the bishop about their concerns. It includes the voices of heartbroken parents whose children no longer practice the faith, compassionate churchgoers who deeply desire to alleviate poverty and hunger in their midst and young families who are seeking support to raise their children in a Christ-centered home.
These voices have been shaping the conversation to develop a mutually shared vision along with a purpose statement, priorities and goals that will guide the Diocese of St. Petersburg into the future with purpose, focus, clarity and above all, in service to Jesus Christ. Bishop Parkes says the final plan will be based primarily on the needs of our people.
“I will always speak of the vision or our vision, not my vision,” said Bishop Gregory Parkes. “I may be the messenger, but the vision will represent what our people believe is best for our Church.”
The 16 members of the Visioning Team have been researching what is successful at parishes and schools, what are obstacles to faith and what are the ways to move forward with bold initiatives that will challenge our community to think outside the box for opportunities of evangelization.
“We are commissioned through our baptism to be evangelizers,” said Bishop Parkes. “Let us be a church that not only looks inward but outward.”
The Visioning Team has been working since December 6 when their first planning session was held. Planning sessions have also been held in January, February, March and two sessions were just completed April 3 & 4. (To view past articles about the Visioning Process, click here.)
Several guest speakers have presented information to the Visioning Team to provide a better understanding of current initiatives and to make recommendations that will contribute to a vibrant and growing Church community in Tampa Bay and West Central Florida.
Ryan Phelan, Association Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, believes strongly that, “We need to accompany young people to help them experience Christ in new ways, in their own way, and to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to them and to help them stay connected to their church.”
“We also need to help people realize that youth ministry goes way beyond youth group and event programming,” added Phelan.
Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, provided statistics on poverty rates and suggested new ways to positively impact lives.
“Over and over, we heard people at our listening sessions tell us to reach out to people in need. What should we do? Universally, people said we should be doing more,” commented Bishop Parkes.
Dufva shared that some of the biggest needs are a lack of affordable housing and a lack of financial resources to help families feel secure.
“Almost half of the population in all counties are one crisis away from homelessness,” said Dufva.
The topic of spreading the faith and evangelization was discussed by guest speaker, Diane Kledzik, Associate Director for Evangelization, Small Christian Communities and Adult Faith Formation for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
“Evangelization affects every ministry – it’s the reason every ministry exists,” said Diane. “We need to be helping people encounter each other and encounter Christ. We have to awaken the faith inside of people and break it out,” said Kledzik.
When reflecting on how to evangelize, Carlos Flores, the Associate Director of Hispanic Ministry and member of the Diocesan Visioning Team, said that by being intentionally inclusive, we send a message that everyone is welcome in our community, our churches and our schools.
“How are we encouraging participation and helping people feel that they are part of the community?” asked Flores.
The team recognizes that people are not always receptive to change but the consensus is that change is needed so that the Church can more effectively fulfill its mission to “bring Good News to the poor,” (Luke 4:18) which is also understood as being a beacon of hope to people who are hurting and who lack faith and a lack of purpose.
“We need to be authentic and preach the Gospel even if it makes people uncomfortable,” said Father Justin Paskert, USF Campus Minister and member of the Visioning Team.
The final planning session will be April 23 with an announcement to the diocese by Pentecost 2018.
As the team discerned the many areas of need and how the Church could address the needs, Bishop Parkes urged the Visioning Team to think big when dreaming about what the future could look like for our Church.
“We want a vision that is bold and goals that are high impact and even a stretch for us to achieve,” said Bishop Parkes.