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Archives Group assists in implementing a plan to lead diocese into a hopeful future
Living Stones committee takes on the challenge

April 11, 2018

By Mary Lou Kilian

Ogdensburg – In his new role as episcopal vicar for pastoral personnel, Father Christopher C. Carrara leads a committee with a daunting mission.

He and other members of the Living Stones Planning Committee are charged with implementing a diocesan plan which seeks to:
• enable parishes to become more vibrant, hope-filled and joy-filled communities of disciples;

• encourage greater participation among the laity in leadership roles; and

• assess parish demographics in relation to the economic, human and spiritual resources available in each parish and those of neighboring parishes.

Father Carrara is the newest member of the committee which was formed in 2014 as a representative group of priests, deacons, religious and laity from each of the deaneries of the diocese.

Under the leadership of Father James W. Seymour, Father’s Carrara’s predecessor as committee chair, the Living Stones Plan was submitted to Bishop Terry R. LaValley in 2016 and approved.

Parish groupings
Included in the plan is a list of parish groupings and assignment of pastors.

Each of these parish configurations - which include parishes, worship sites, missions and oratories in each of the deaneries - has been required to submit a pastoral plan. The priest(s), in consultation with finance councils, parish councils, trustees and parishioners of all parishes in the  groupings, have been called on to devise the local plan.

Following the guidelines of the Living Stones Plan, parishes report on Mass schedules, staff, ministries to various groups including youth, homebound, prisoners and the bereaved as well as sacramental preparation, liturgical ministries and more.

“First and foremost, the purpose of the plan is not just to respond to the shortage of priests,” Father Carrara said in an interview with the North Country Catholic.

“The pastoral plans are to continue to bring about vibrant parishes,” he said. “The parish representatives are asked to look at all their ministries and evaluate what they were doing well, what they need to do more of, what they wanted to do differently.

“An example of that would be if Parish A did not have a ministry to the unchurched, they could recommend that they establish one,” he said. “If they already had one, they were asked to evaluate if it was sufficient.”
Once the parish plans are complete, they are submitted to the Living Stones Planning committee.

Father Carrara explained that each plan is reviewed by a sub-committee to make sure all the necessary elements are included. Then the full committee reviews the document.

Members might raise questions, recommend areas to look at and send it back to the parishes OR send it on to the bishop for his review with the recommendation that it be approved.

While the subcommittees and committee meticulously review each plan, Bishop LaValley thoroughly reviews them as well, Father Carrara said, asking for clarification on any questionable aspects.

“Seventeen have gone through the whole process, been reviewed and approved by the bishop,” Father Carrara said. “Eight are awaiting more documentation and a handful are still being worked on at the parish level, delayed perhaps because of a change in pastors.”

Dedicated committee
Father Carrara has high praise for the Living Stones Planning committee, a group of people who meet regularly either in person or by skype.

Among the members, Msgr. Dennis Duprey, pastor of St. Peter’s in Plattsburgh, has been part of the diocesan planning process since 1987 when Bishop Stanislaus J. Brzana asked him to join Msgr. Robert G. Giroux and Msgr. David W. Stinebrickner in the new initiative.

“Frankly I have never gotten away from it since then,” Msgr. Duprey said. “Various efforts, including a larger committee and Sister Jennifer (Votraw, a Sister of St. Joseph) as a director of planning developed.  Lots of work has been done in parishes and at the diocesan level.

“Bishop LaValley's restructuring of the committee has given it new representation and new direction,” he said “The direction now is not simply addressing the shrinking number of priests, but really does look to create vibrant parishes in our time.  That is what I expect to be the ongoing interest of the committee. 

“Besides offering institutional memory, I am pleased to serve on this committee because it looks to the future with hope,” he said. “Vibrancy of faith is what we are always looking at. The number of clergy and religious is important.  But honestly the vibrancy and numbers of all parishioners is vital.

“That living faith expresses itself in parishes with life giving liturgies, ongoing formation of minds and hearts and service to our neighbors, near and far,” Msgr. Duprey said. “It is a work that is often challenging (who likes change?) and filled with seeds planted but growth not yet seen.  But even after 30 years plus, it seems like the right thing to do.”

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