More than 170 parishioners met at St. Camillus Church Hall  on Saturday, Oct. 26, for a daylong effort to bring shape to a 16-month-old “infant” of collaborating Catholic parishes in Arlington.

The Rev. Marc Bishop addresses Oct. 26 convocation. / Scott Morin photoThe Rev. Marc Bishop addresses Oct. 26 convocation. / Scott Morin photos

One goal of the convocation was to provide those present with an opportunity to learn about the state of the Catholic Parishes of Arlington – an alliance of St. Camillus and St. Agnes into a collaborative, which began in June 2018.

Participants also wanted to get to know each other, discuss how to energize their worship, extend their generosity, educate themselves in their faith and evangelize more effectively.

A collaborative is a grouping of one, two or three parishes that work together for the goal of evangelizing. The "Disciples in Mission" from the Boston Archdiocese, expresses a hope “to convert individual people and society as a whole to belief in Christ, to encourage people to respond in faith to Christ's offer of salvation, through experiencing the powerful message of the Gospel alive and active in those of us who believe.”

A collaborative has one pastor, one set of assigned priests and deacons, and one pastoral team (including pastoral associates, religious-education and faith-formation leaders, finance and operations specialists, and administrative and facilities personnel). All of these people work together for all of the parishes involved in a collaborative. The collaborative has one Pastoral Council and one local pastoral plan for evangelization.

St. Agnes-St. Camillus logo

Parishes within a collaborative maintain their own identity, assets and obligations, and buildings (including churches). Because the assets and obligations of each parish continue to belong to that parish, each parish has its own Finance Council. However, since many costs are shared, the finance councils of all of the parishes in the collaborative may often meet together.

In June 2018, the Rev. Marc Bishop was appointed pastor for the collaborative along with parochial vicars Rev. Robert Sahayaraj and Rev. Michael Zimmerman. The latter has since been reassigned to the Office of Vocations within the Archdiocese of Boston, and the Rev. Michael Sheehan has been appointed in his place.

Collaborative convocation

Rather than assign a small committee to devise priorities and set goals, the Catholic Parishes of Arlington decided to invite everyone to weigh in on the future of the collaborative so that the diverse needs of the community could be represented.

Father Marc, the pastor, delivered a “State of the Catholic Parishes” address. He said that church attendance has been declining over the years.

One statistic that drew surprise was that only 9 percent of those baptized in the church practiced their faith after graduating. There has also been a steady decline in the number of priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.

The pastor also outlined the change in demographics in the town of Arlington and how the collaborative had to be more sensitive to the needs of a highly educated and diverse community.

Participants in the convocation at St. Camillus. / Scott Morin photoParticipants in the convocation at St. Camillus. 

The remainder of the day’s agenda centered on four topics: Prayer, Education, Generosity and Evangelization, recognized as the four signs of a dynamic Catholic. Each session featured a presentation on the topic itself, witness by a parishioner and followed by round-table guided discussions.

One of the issues raised was the need for more engagement with youth and young adults by offering greater opportunities for their involvement in parish life. Participants learned that members need to be better educated in the various aspects of the faith.

Anne Doherty, a long-standing member of the community, witnessed to how the newly introduced adult formation program has enlightened her faith. There was broad recognition of the need for more volunteers to support the many parish ministries and also the need for greater lay initiative and leadership.

Summaries of the table discussions were shared with all attendees and cataloged.

Carol Greeley posted on Facebook: “Such a wonderful convocation yesterday at St Camillus -- thank you to those involved with the planning of such a monumental event – looking forward to being part of such a historic parish initiative. Hope to see more friends and family at future events as God leads us in transforming the Catholic Parishes of Arlington. …… Such an exciting time!!!”

The day concluded with the celebration of the Eucharist at the 4:30 p.m. Mass.

Pastoral plan

The next step in the process is to create a local pastoral plan, which will shape how the collaborative moves forward to grow and prosper spiritually as a faith family. The plan spans the next two to three years, and a team will be assembled to write it.

Discussion summaries from the convocation will serve as the primary input in the development of the pastoral plan. Once drafted, it will be shared with the collaborative community for review.

Next June, the pastoral plan for the Catholic Parishes in Arlington will be submitted to Cardinal Sean O’Malley for comment and final approval. 

This news summary by congregation participant Chris Doyle was published Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.