By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
As one of 10 priests receiving new parish assignments this year, Father Jim Vrba wondered whether the Davenport Diocese might offer a transition workshop for leaders of those parishes. He took his suggestion to Dan Ebener, diocesan director of stewardship and parish planning. Their discussion led to the first Parish Leadership Retreat, held Sept. 4 at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.
“As much energy as we have been placing in parishes (concerning) strategic planning and working together … it seemed to me we should be doing the same thing as new pastors are assigned to parishes. There’s a very similar dynamic that goes on,” Fr. Vrba said. “A sense of loss, a sense of building a team again, anticipation of a new person coming in and wondering what he’s going to be like or, from the pastor’s standpoint, what’s the new parish staff going to be like?” Those are the kinds of issues and feelings that go along with transition.
Each parish had four to 10 parish leaders at the daylong event. They participated in team-building activities, reflected on the beatitudes and leadership, created a parish concept mapping guide, engaged in a listening drill and practiced the five-step meeting process. Ebener said participants especially liked the five-step meeting process, which entails: welcoming and explaining the meeting’s purpose; generating ideas to address the issue at hand; discussing pros and cons of each idea; voting on each idea; coming to consensus and planning next steps.
“The idea is that instead of holding meetings to report and meetings to persuade we should hold more meetings to address our leadership challenges, such as how to share leadership responsibilities with more people in the parish,” Ebener explained.
Fr. Vrba said the retreat helped to build on communication and parish planning for staff, and provided an opportunity to get to know each other around the table a little bit better. “It was really great that Bishop (Martin) Amos could be there with us as well to show his support and leadership and his servant leadership,” Fr. Vrba said. “I really enjoyed it and I know our parish staff did as well.”
“It was nice to sit down as a group with our new pastor and other staff and lay directors,” said Andy Adamcik, a lay director for St. Anthony Parish, Knoxville. His parish shares an administrator,Father Jacob Greiner, with Sacred Heart Parish, Melcher. Both parishes were represented at the retreat. The group found the five-step meeting process particularly helpful, Adamcik noted. “It was the focus of our conversation on the (1-1/2-hour) drive back. … “We’re all busy and have real jobs and families.”
Father Jason Crossen, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Bettendorf, also was impressed with the five-step meeting process. “As pastors, we go to so many meetings. A lot of times these meetings digress … they become what Dan calls an information meeting; they’re not as action-oriented as they should be.” A meeting focused on strategic planning “energizes people. They look for effective change that brings life into the parish,” Fr. Crossen added.
Discussion on the beatitudes during the retreat also impressed Fr. Crossen. He and his parish staff leaders were asked to reflect on the beatitude related to mercy. “From a staff perspective, that was one of the greatest gems we were able to receive and take part in to help us grow,” he said.
The retreat was a “helpful reminder to see the bigger vision pastorally of how we are to lead, keeping in mind those beatitudes that keep us grounded in the humanity, in the needs of the people,” observed Julie Agne, director of religious education for St. Mary Parish, Solon.
“It was helpful to remember how to keep a meeting on track … a meeting that is going to welcome all ideas and then move quickly toward what ideas are going to be most helpful to lead to consensus,” she added.
“This is the first in what we hope will be an annual event for parishes with a new pastor,” Ebener said.
Bishop Amos, who attended the event because he thought it was important, noted: “We read all the evaluations on the way home and I’m convinced that with a few tweaks we will do it again next year.”