Beginning in September, St. Gregory the Great will be participating in a program sponsored and administered by the Archdiocese of Chicago called Parish Transformation. Parish Transformation is a program that seeks to help a parish look at how it might be more effective in responding to the needs that the parish is facing not only today but 5 to 10 years in the future as the demographics of the parish change. All parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago are expected to participate in this program. Currently about half of the parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago have gone through this process, and their feedback about the program and how it has helped their parish to become more ministerially vital has been very positive.
Why is our parish participating in Parish Transformation?
As the world around us changes, and as we change as people, it is healthy to step back and evaluate how we are living out the mission of Christ through our parish. This is what we will do through Parish Transformation. I am confident that our reflections and discussions will affirm who we are and much of what we are doing as a parish. However, we may find that a fresh look will highlight areas of need that challenge us to try new ideas and approaches. At the end of the day, our goal is to celebrate the gift that is our parish community, while trying to make our parish even more vibrant and effective in carrying out the spirit of Jesus’ mission and ministry.
How will we do this?
Because we will be reflecting upon how our parish is living out the mission of Christ in our community, I want us to think of this process as an extended retreat. We need to enter into this process with openness to where the Holy Spirit is calling us to go. The final product of the Parish Transformation process will be a strategic plan that includes specific actions, goals, and timelines that we will want to accomplish. This is an opportunity for us to grow spiritually, both as individuals and as a parish, and to take the next step in our collective faith journey.
The Parish Transformation process will take place from September through November. The Archdiocese is providing us with a facilitator (at no cost to the parish) to guide us through the process. Our facilitator will provide an independent perspective that will allow him/her to ask honest questions of us and challenge our assumptions. S/he will also be able to share with us ideas from over other 180 parishes that have already participated in Parish Transformation have come up with through their discussions.
I have already put together a team of parishioners that will represent all the different groups that are a part of our parish. As the process moves forward, I will keep you informed about what is happening. Please pray for the success of the Parish Transformation process and for the people who will be helping to facilitate it. - Fr. Paul
PARISH TRANSFORMATION TEAM
What follows are the names of the members of our Parish Transformation Team. They are available to answer any questions or concerns that you might have about the Parish Transformation process. Keep them in your prayers.
STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Sr. Regina De Vitto
Mary Ann Harrington
Fr. Paul Wachdorf
Mark and Amy Alznauer
Frank and Mary Corbett
Mary Lynn Dekold
Mark and Lauren Franzen
PARISH TRANSFORMATION UPDATE #1
A new and exciting endeavor for our parish that will actively engage St. Gregory the Great Church is an Archdiocese of Chicago initiative entitled Parish Transformation. The goal of Parish Transformation is to bring a new energy and vitality to every parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago and now to us at St. Gregory the Great. It is meant to help us to take a fresh look at the way we respond to a wounded world that needs us to courageously witness to Christ. Parish Transformation will help us identify the gifts and the values of St. Gregory that we might maximize them in our own parish and will help us to share them with our neighboring parishes who might benefit from them. In addition, it will help us to honestly identify the challenges of our parish, those areas that need greater attention so that we can become stronger and more vital as a living faith community. Over the course of the coming weeks, we will share with you how this process of Parish Transformation is unfolding and where it is leading us. Our Parish Transformation initiative began on Friday, Sept. 16 and will continue with weekly meetings until just before Thanksgiving. We have a Parish Transformation Team composed of 35 parishioners who represent the various age and ethinc groups that make up our parish. Please pray for the success of the Parish Transformation process and check this site weekly to find out what is happening with our Parish Transformation process. If you have any questions about our Parish Transformation process, please contact Fr. Paul Wachdorf or Sr. Regina De Vitto.
PARISH TRANSFORMATION UPDATE #2
On Friday, Sept. 23, we had the second meeting of our Parish Transformation Group. We began our second meeting with a simple and stimulating exercise. Each person was asked to take two post-it notes. We were asked to write one hope and one concern that we have for our parish on each paper. After a few minutes we shared them at our tables and then shared them with the entire group. While there were a variety of responses, there were also many common ones. Among common concerns were the shortage of priests and limited finances. Among common hopes were ways of attracting more people to participate in parish life and giving service beyond ourselves to the greater community. Most of the meeting time was spent reviewing data from the archdiocesan surveys that many parishioners filled out in May. Because of the overwhelming response of our parish to the Archdiocesan survey, we now have important data that informs our current parish reality. In upcoming weeks we will continue to reflect upon this data in light of who we are now as a parish community and who we want to become in the future. At our next meeting, we will look at some of the “pearls of great price” of St. Gregory the Great Church – things that are part of our heritage like our beautiful Church and things we are currently doing well that we can enhance and improve upon and that we can share with our neighboring parishes. We will also begin to look at the seven building blocks for mission – a missionary spirit, a call to holiness, spiritual stewardship, evangelization, catechesis, prayer and worship and communio, i.e. forming a genuine Catholic community that is conscious of its solidarity in Christ even in the midst of diversity and conflict. Please pray for the success of our Parish Transformation initiative and for the members of our Parish Transformation team.
PARISH TRANSFORMATION UPDATE - #3
Our third Parish Transformation meeting on Friday, Sept. 30 began with a brief recap of the data from the Parish Survey that we looked at the previous week. In the light of this data and our own experience we were asked to write on a post-it note what we believe to be a gift, a pearl of great price, that St. Gregory offers to us and the archdiocese. We were able to write as many gifts as we wanted to highlight. Table sharing of these gifts took place. Then we were asked of all the gifts, could we combine them into one or two “pearls.” These pearls of great price become the gifts that create the identity of St. Gregory the Great Church, the blessings of which we are proud. Every table spoke about the gifts of our choir and music program, our Sunday Eucharist, our church building, our artists-in-residence program, including Quest Theater, ICA (International Chamber Artists) and icon workshops and church tours. All these experiences of beauty through the arts enhance our prayer and worship and are one of our “pearls.” From this springs another pearl that fosters outreach beyond our parish boundaries in ministries such as our St. Vincent de Paul Society and our Social Care program. It was also agreed that the people of St. Gregory’s and their spirit of welcome and hospitality are one of our greatest “pearls” because they make visitors to our Church feel comfortable and at home. Next week we will begin to look at the seven building blocks for mission, and we will begin to look ahead to create a vision of where we want to be in the next 5 – 10 years and how our patron St. Gregory the Great can inspire and ground the directions we will be moving in.
PARISH TRANSFORMATION UPDATE #4
Our fourth Parish Transformation meeting invited us to reflect upon the first three spiritual building blocks that every parish needs to be a life-giving parish. A Missionary Spirit, where we are sent out beyond our perceived boundaries to attend to others in need, was something we believe we have, and yet, we also believed we could do more, especially in ways of thinking creatively outside the proverbial box. How are we sensitized to the plight of others that summon us to missionary action? In the second building block, Evangelization, we talked a lot about witnessing and listening. How has the Lord touched me in my life, and how do I share this with others? What is the difference between proselytizing and evangelizing? We concluded that we need to be evangelized ourselves before we engage in evangelization, to be humbly aware that God is the one who takes the initiative if only we are open to this touch of grace. We believe our parish community needs more explanation of the meaning of evangelization and how we can identify and share God’s blessings with others in a way that will energize us and those with whom we meet. Our third building block, Catechesis, is the lifelong process of learning the teachings of Christ and his Church in order that one’s relationship with Christ is constantly renewed by means of evangelization and conversion. Our discussion brought us to an agreement that we need to find ways of improving faith education for the adults of our parish. In the weeks ahead we will reflect upon the remaining 4 spiritual building blocks – Prayer and Worship, Call to Holiness, Spiritual Stewardship and Communio. We ask for your continued prayerful support.
PARISH TRANSFORMATION UPDATE #5
At our fifth Parish Transformation meeting we looked at two more spiritual building blocks and how they contribute to our self-understanding as a parish. The building block of Prayer and Worship had overwhelming support as something that identifies St. Gregory’s in a unique and special way. Our Sunday liturgies are well prepared, engaging and inclusive of everyone. The music, the homilies, the liturgical ministries, the Children’s Liturgy of the Word - all these things encourage active participation in the liturgy and foster a deeper appreciation of our faith. We also reflected upon the many different kinds of prayer opportunities that are offered over and above our Sunday Eucharist. These opportunities help to create for us a culture of prayer. Our daily morning Mass, First Friday adoration, Taize prayer, our Charismatic Prayer Group, the All Souls Day vesper service, Lessons, Lights and Carols and our women and men’s scripture study groups are but a few of the many ways we realize a strong experience of prayer and worship.
We also reflected on the building block of Communio, a consciousness that we share solidarity in Christ even in the midst of diversity and conflict. Communio challenges us to become more comfortable with stretching our understanding of and embrace of cultural diversity to all who come to worship and pray with us and to also reach beyond our parish boundaries to our neighboring parishes, our archdiocese, and our world. Communio is experienced when a parish offers welcome, inclusiveness, respect and hospitality to those who come to church, especially newcomers. We believe that St. Gregory the Great reflects this sense of Communio, and we feel challenged find ways to make it even stronger.
Please continue to pray for the success of our parish transformation project.
PARISH TRANSFORMATION UPDATE #6
At our sixth Parish Transformation meeting we reflected upon the last two spiritual building blocks.
The first building block is the Call to Holiness. We believe that this is the call to become our best selves, an insight from Catholic author Matthew Kelly. St. Irenaeus states that the glory of God is when we are fully human and fully alive. This means that holiness is possible for all of us. We talked about how St. Gregory the Great provides ways that allow our parishioners to live out holiness, the call given to us at Baptism. An important aspect for our consideration is how a personal invitation to others can help to increase participation in parish life. Parish participation, whether active or passive, energizes our relationship with God.
The second building block is Spiritual Stewardship which calls us to live from an attitude of grateful abundance. We give back, or in other words, we pay forward our gratitude for what we have received from God through the sharing of our time, talent and treasure. Pope Francis has included an urgent call to exercise stewardship of our “common home” to protect and further the life of our planet for future generations. Stewardship calls us, even at great personal sacrifice, to take care of what we have been given for the good of all, now and for those who come after us.
In the next couple of weeks we will be creating a parish narrative, a description of how we see our parish with its strengths and pearls of great price. Then we will choose two or three of the mission building blocks that we would like to focus on as we move into the future and create an action plan that will help us to build upon those building blocks. If you have any questions or concerns about our Parish Transformation project, please contact Sr. Regina or Fr. Paul or talk to any of the members of our Parish Transformation Team.
PARISH TRANSFORMATION UPDATE #7
Our recent Parish Transformation meeting began by reviewing and summarizing the work that we have accomplished thus far. We were then invited to continue with the next step in the process which is the development of a theme that we see emerging from our discussions and the lived experience of our parish. A tool that will help us in the development of this theme or vision is the choice of one or more of the mission building blocks we have reflected upon over the past weeks. We see evangelization and catechesis as key mission building blocks for the ongoing transformation of our parish. It is clear that several common elements have emerged from our discussions and sharing. These elements include an outward focused parish, a faith community that is comfortable to share who we are, what we are about and what we believe with others, and a community that is characterized by intentional discipleship.
In the next two weeks we will create a parish narrative that describes how we hope to see our parish experience transformation as we move into the future. We will also begin to develop an action plan which will consist of some new initiatives that we want to accomplish in the next three to four years. Please continue to pray for our Parish Transformation Team and the work they are doing to renew and transform our parish that it might become more vital and dynamic. Thank you.
PARISH TRANSFORMATION UPDATE #8
At our eighth Parish Transformation meeting we approved a theme that we feel expresses a future for our parish filled with hope. The theme is as follows:
Grounded in the Eucharist and in our own faith individually and communally, we are comfortable going forth as intentional disciples to joyfully share our faith, hope, love and talent within and outside of our parish and to discover and empower the time and talent for ministry of those in our own parish community.
We are now beginning the task of writing an overall ministerial/spiritual vision for our parish called a “narrative” that defines who we are and what we are about as St. Gregory the Great Church. Our of our parish narrative will flow action steps – things that we want to work on over the course of the next three to four years that will help to make our parish more vital and dynamic, that will help us to collaborate with other parishes and with the mission and ministries of the Archdiocese of Chicago and that will help us as the people of St. Gregory the Great Church to unite ourselves more closely with the ministry and mission of Jesus.
PARISH TRANSFORMATION UPDATE #9
At the ninth and final meeting of our Parish Transformation team, we unanimously approved a spiritual vision for our parish called a “narrative” that beautifully captures our identity as a faith community. It inspires us to work toward the deepening of our parish faith. We are pleased to share this narrative with you.
A key objective that emerged for us from this narrative is a firm desire to become intentional stewards of gratitude for who we are and what we have been given. We realize that stewardship is more than taking care of what we have; it requires an enthusiastic participation on everyone’s part to embody the joy of the Gospel especially for those who follow us in the years to come.
Our next task is to work out an action plan. A smaller group of people from the larger Parish Transformation team will meet to choose three or four things that we want to work on over the next three to four years that will foster a renewed sense of stewardship for us and for the life of our parish. We continue to rely on your prayers for the work we still need to accomplish in our Parish Transformation project.
We continue to rely on your prayers for the success of this important parish transformation project.
ST. GREGORY THE GREAT CHURCH PARISH TRANSFORMATION NARRATIVE
It is out of a deep love for our parish and its present gifts that we, the Parishioners of St. Gregory the Great Parish, seek to bring about renewal. We are inspired by our patron saint who called for a move from this very love to action. “The proof of love is in the works,” he said. “Where love exists it works great things.”
We begin by recognizing who we are. We are a church of striking diversity. We range from a vigorous, growing population of young families to elderly folks, some of whom have loyally served our church for over half a century. We include people from many different countries and cultural backgrounds, most notably a robust community of Filipinos who bring their own rich traditions into our practices. We live in a neighborhood with a large gay population, and many from this community have found a home in our parish. We serve people from both liberal and conservative perspectives and from various socio-economic backgrounds. But regardless of background, our members are united by an abiding love for and devotion to our parish.
A parishioner once asked one of our priests, “How does this work? How do such different people manage to come together?” And he beautifully answered, “We come together through the liturgy.” We bring these disparate groups joyfully together in the celebration of the Eucharist and so manage to operate like a small village within the larger, urban setting of Chicago.
But it is more than just the welcoming, small-town feel and beautiful liturgy of our masses that draws people together. Our building with its gorgeous woodcarvings and soaring angels and stained glass is a fitting home for our thriving arts outreach. A number of artists-in-residence (an iconographer, a theater troupe and a group of chamber musicians) continually infuse our church and community with newly rendered visual, musical and theatrical offerings. Also we have a number of flourishing ministries – a children’s Liturgy of the Word, a young adult group, an outreach to the sick and homebound, to name just a few – that make St. Gregory’s an appealing home for so many.
So now, during this season of renewal, we desire to find creative ways to more effectively “give what we have received as gift” (Matthew 10:8) and more thoroughly take to heart Jesus’ call to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). We already have a church and community we love and take great pride in, it’s the gift we have received, but now we seek to bring all of our members, all of the nations who call us home, into active participation, empowering everyone to take ownership of this great home and become comfortable acting as its stewards.
We want to view our parish not just as a group of people contained within the walls of a church, but as a community whose boundaries stretch beyond our building into the surrounding world. This view shifts our understanding of the very term parish and calls us to throw open the doors of our church letting everyone know the gifts we have to give and inviting everyone to take part.
In summary we desire to become intentional disciples. We are intentional insofar as we appreciate the bountiful gifts we already have and recognize that every one of us is called to give our time, talent and treasure in order to become stewards of these gifts. We are disciples insofar as we translate this recognition of our gifts and people into action, following Christ’s teaching that we must freely give what we have freely received.
Through creative communication and teaching, we will work to invigorate and make comfortable our current members to be both stewards and evangelists: people who take good care of our gifts and then carry them enthusiastically beyond our doors to members of the community and neighboring parishes. As we begin this journey we draw strength from the words of our patron saint who said, “He who would climb to a lofty height must go by steps not leaps.” And we take heart, as we always have, in our beautiful liturgy and our community, in our small, beloved village within the vast city of Chicago.