With survey results in, pastoral planning proceeds

By Catholic Spirit Staff

The Diocese of Austin is now six months into the development of a new Pastoral Plan that will guide the diocese for the next three to five years. In the spring, the diocese held a number of listening sessions in parish communities; they were conducted in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and a session was conducted for our Black Catholic communities. People in particular ministries were also invited to participate in focus groups in which they discussed how these ministries are effective and their hopes and dreams for the future of ministry in the diocese. Participants included those from Catholic schools, social concerns ministries, pro-life, deacons, religious women and men, youth and young adult ministries and religious education. 
The largest input came from a survey that was distributed at the parish level. Priests serving in the diocese were interviewed and given the opportunity to complete a survey. The entire body of data gathered is now in the hands of the team from Essential Conversations, the consultants hired to help the diocese develop the new pastoral plan. Summaries of the data collected are below. 
The listening sessions and focus groups identified common themes for the overarching vision for the plan. Respondents hoped that the plan reflects the spirit of Pope Francis and his continuous outreach to those persons who are hurting and in need. They also wanted the Pastoral Plan to focus members of the diocese on what it means to be a disciple in their parish and in the community, not just a member of a church. Parishioners also thought the plan should give direction to those in parish ministries about how to respond to people’s needs and work more cooperatively together to meet those needs. 
The call to become better stewards means that the people and economic resources of a parish are used wisely to meet the spiritual and physical needs of those in the community. To thrive, the diocese must embrace all people, provide a supportive community, focus on our families, have clear and crisp communications networks and help people link the teachings of Jesus Christ to their daily lives. 
In addition, the plan must recognize that parish life exists within a particular cultural and civic setting and must provide faith formation for all age groups that is energizing and inspiring with a particular focus on families and young people. Parishes in the future need stronger pastoral leadership teams with the ability to work effectively with others in the community as well as across parish boundaries. It was noted during the listening sessions, where participants were from various parishes, they reacted very positively to the opportunity to talk with each other, share ideas and appreciate they have common issues that need attention.
Survey data
More than 4,125 people responded to the survey (online or paper). The survey was available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. The survey addressed three areas of focus: Parish life, the role of the diocese and their own personal faith. 
Parish life
The survey data showed that 93 percent of respondents consider that teaching children and young people our Catholic faith is important. Ninety-one percent of the respondents consider meaningful prayer and worship very important to their spiritual lives. Nearly 90 percent of respondents believe it is important that the parish supports their spiritual growth, provides adult education and focuses on youth and young adults. In addition, 83 percent of the respondents believe it is important for the parish community to reach out to those in need.

Diocese’s role
Eighty-four percent of the respondents think that the important areas of focus for the diocese include being a voice for justice, peace and human life. More than 70 percent indicate that public and community presence and outreach to non-practicing Catholics should be another area of focus. Finally, more than 60 percent believe that the diocese should focus on advocacy for Catholic principles and teachings at the legislative levels of state and federal government. 
Personal faith
Eighty-one percent of the respondents considered it important that their faith connect to their work and family life and that they learn more about the teachings of the church. Seventy-four percent of the respondents consider it important they learn more about how to pray and have a deeper prayer life and relationship with God. 
More than 70 percent believe it is important to know how to communicate effectively with others about their Catholic faith. Half of the respondents believe that parishes could better collaborate with other parishes and nearly half have a desire to be more involved in parish life. Nearly 40 percent of the respondents have a desire for their children to attend a Catholic school. 
More information
The survey data also gathered narrative information from respondents on three specific areas. Here are a few of the most common answers for each question.
The first two questions asked respondents to identify reasons why individuals have joined or left the church. The most common responses included that their spouse was already a practicing Catholic; they desired for their family to practice one faith and to raise their children Catholic; and they wanted to have the opportunity to celebrate Mass and receive the Eucharist. Common reasons why someone left the church included divorce and the annulment process, a negative experience with parish leadership and a lack of connection to the parish or lack of spirituality.
The future
The final survey question asked respondents about what they considered to be the most important thing the diocese must address as it plans for the future. The most common answers included parish leadership, expanding religious education for all ages and Catholic schools, sharing Christ’s love for all people and spreading the Good News. 
The first draft of the Pastoral Plan is scheduled to be presented to the Steering Committee on Aug. 9. For the latest information regarding the plan, visit the diocesan website at www.austindiocese.org.  

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