“The Synod’s foundational conviction is that the Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit is resolved to obey the Holy Spirit and be made by him a band of joyful missionary disciples. This means that the Archdiocese, following the call of Pope Francis, is resolved to undergo a “missionary conversion,” a change in our culture, such that every person at every level of the Church, through personal encounter with Jesus Christ, embraces his or her identity as a son or daughter of God and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is formed and sent forth as a joyful missionary disciple... For parishes and archdiocesan services, it means the renewal of structures to make them Spirit-led and radically mission- oriented.”
This quote is from the Foundational Conviction of Unleash the Gospel (UTG), and now three years after its release we see its affirmation in an ecclesiological reflection released by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy entitled The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church (hereafter referred to as the Instruction).
This commentary is presented as both a brief summary of the Instruction itself and a reflection on how it fits so well with our missionary journey here in the AOD.
The Instruction is presented in eleven Chapters which walk the reader through an appreciation for how parishes have traditionally been organized, how current cultural influences will impact the future role of parishes, and then a series of considerations as to what the parish structure may look like moving forward.
In Chapter I of the Instruction, we read that, “In order for the journey of the Word to continue, the Christian community must make a determined missionary decision capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” In a similar but perhaps more efficient way, UTG calls us to undergo a missionary conversion.
In Chapters II and III, we read that “increased mobility and the digital culture have expanded the confines” of the territorial configuration of the parish, and that it is “necessary to find new forms of accompaniment and closeness.” It goes on to say that this task “ought not be seen as a burden but rather a challenge to be embraced with enthusiasm.” Put another way, we are called to be joyful missionary disciples.
Chapter IV makes it clear that mission is the guiding principle for renewal. Chapter V tells the reader that, “The Parish is not identified as a building or a series of structures, but rather as a specific community of the faithful.” Chapter VI then begins to bridge over from the previous Chapters into an understanding that, “The conversion of structures, which the Church must undertake, requires a significant change in mentality and interior renewal.” It also emphasizes the importance of carrying out changes with flexibility and gradualism.
Chapters VII and VIII are arguably the meat and potatoes of the document. These two Chapters comprise about 1/3 of the total text of the document. It is here where the focus on Parish groupings (or “Families” as we call them here in the AOD) are detailed, as well as considerations as to the ordinary and extraordinary ways of assigning the pastoral care of the Parish community.
Chapters IX, X, and XI then describe various considerations such as how to populate other roles within a Parish grouping. While these other considerations are not insignificant, in the spirit of brevity they are not detailed here.
To be clear, the Instruction does not propose any new Church legislation. What it does propose is methods to better apply existing rules and canonical norms in the spirit of the missionary renewal of parishes.
But why is this so relevant to our efforts here in the AOD? Quite simply, our efforts to unleash the Gospel have not stopped despite our need to reconsider our parish structures, just as the efforts of the universal Church toward the new evangelization have not stopped despite her need to consider the same on a global scale. While restructuring is a necessary course of action both globally and locally, we cannot ever lose sight of the fact that we do so for the purpose of being more missionary.
And so this Instruction provides us some wind in our sails, some reinforcement that the path we are on toward Families of Parishes is a good one. We are not alone; the Universal Church fully recognizes the need to make such changes, and as we have so often reinforced, she advises us that we must do everything we do with a heart and a mind for being more intentionally missionary.
Our move to Families of Parishes is not an easy one. It comes with much prayer, deliberation, debate, and even sometimes disappointment. But as the Instruction states, it must not be seen as a burden but rather a challenge to be embraced with enthusiasm.
The release of the Instruction was not comprehended when Archbishop Vigneron revealed his discernment to move to Families of Parishes this past Pentecost. But the fact that it was released is not a coincidence. Indeed, it is further evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our missionary thrust which began with our pre-Synod Year of Prayer just over six years ago.
The conclusion of the Instruction includes this statement: “While it remains an indispensable institution to encounter Christ and to have a living relationship with Him and with our brothers and sisters in the faith, it is likewise true that the Parish must constantly face changes taking place in today’s culture and in the existential reality of persons, in order to explore creatively new ways and methods that allow it to be at the height of its primary function, that is, being a force of evangelization.”
In similar fashion, the Foundational Conviction of UTG includes the statement: “For parishes and archdiocesan services, it means the renewal of structures to make them Spirit-led and radically mission- oriented.”
While our journey is not always easy, it is important to know that we are moving in concert with the direction of the Holy Spirit and the support of the universal Church.