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Dan Gast is the Director of Project INSPIRE, a partnership Initiative of Loyola University Chicago and the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Keeping Pastoral Imagination Alive

We are INSPIRE and we have a little over two years remaining on our grant. Details are at the bottom of this blog, but first, some introductions and a little of our story

INSPIRE is a partnership initiative of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Loyola University Chicago, made possible by a generous grant of the Lilly Endowment through their Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program. In 2005, the Endowment challenged us to find “excellent” pastoral leaders in parishes throughout the Archdiocese and help them express their pastoral work as Pastoral Leadership Teams.

The Work. Pastoral work might look easy to some. It is deceptive that way to anyone looking at it from the outside. More than in any recent times it takes courage, skill, spirituality, and no small amount of imagination. INSPIRE’s mission is to Identify, Nurture, and Sustain Pastoral Imagination through Resources for Excellence. INSPIRE teams learn the difficult art of collaboration as they build common mission. When people work together as pastoral leaders, it’s still not easy, but for them and their community it becomes good work, life-giving work. They bless, heal, console, teach, preach, pray, and plan together, and see futures where “all may have life.” Soon, parishioners see them and many are attracted to their common mission. Frequently, more people join the work as everyday stewards, witnesses, and disciples of Jesus. Usually, the parish gets more lay leaders.

The People who work in parishes are ordained--priests and deacons—and religious men and women, and lay women and men. The mix varies, as a glance through the archdiocesan directory confirms. The roles vary, too. A parish staff might be large, comprised of skilled professionals, or it might be the pastor and a secretary and a sister religious, supported by deacons who have “day jobs” but serve in the evening on their own time. More and more, there are lay people joined in the work. “Excellent” is no one’s self-perception, because the work is as it seems, bigger than everyone. “Called,” however, is very much their common self-perception.

Collaborative Pastoral Leadership is a tall order in today’s parish. Everyone has skilled, focused work to do, often with different segments of the parish. It’s easy to miss each other when different work has each of you at the parish at different hours. We take almost two years to form the habits of “slowing down” and meeting with one another—for work, play, planning, and especially for prayer. We learn how to talk, face up to challenges and even failures, and to become passionate not only about “my” work, but “your” work, and finally, about our work. Everyone’s personal and shared spirituality is the gateway, our constant focus. Then we concentrate on communication and various pastoral disciplines. Our intention is to form common mission for vibrant parish life, centered on prayer and sacrament, engaged in witness and outreach.

Parish communities in the U.S. Church are amazing gifts to the Church. “You Americans,” a visiting German pastor recently acclaimed, “you are always praying, and your people really seem to own their parishes.” Try scanning the Chicago area parish websites. Most parishes post the parish mission on page one, and the list of ministries one can join is often stunning. To keep this lively Church prospering, even in these most daunting and challenging times, it will continue to take many hands and hearts. One wishes the headlines could occasionally let the world know of the pastoral excellence that is everyday in our midst. INSPIRE was created to grow that excellence.

Our challenge now is to expand the work we were privileged to do with only a little over 15% of parishes in the Archdiocese. (On a budget that promised 10% of the parishes.) We’ve worked with single  parishes, merged and partnered parishes, archdiocesan agencies, and more recently an Episcopal Vicar, his Deans and staff. By 2012 the endowed work will end, and we must create self-sustaining programs that continue the institutional partnership at Loyola University Chicago, particularly with their Institute of Pastoral Studies, and with the Archdiocese. Together we must build efforts that support and foster healthy, vital parish staffs and communities. Learn more about INSPIRE at www.inspireproject.org.

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Comments

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 2:02 PM

I have also experienced the benefit of being part of a parish whose staff participated in the INSPIRE project. The experience was the support we needed to navigate through a difficult transition period of changing pastors. The Archdiocese must find a way to keep the work of INSPIRE going after the initial funding is gone.

Nancy P.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 12:48 PM

My parish is currently going through the INSPIRE program and I must say so far so good. I do not think we will have a problem with our short-term and long-term goals! Thank you for such a great program!

Vince Z.

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