Parish study process takes next step as ‘clusters’ form

Photo Caption: Bob Baker, a member of St. Patrick’s Parish, Minonk, greets Norman Alleman (seated) of St. Ann’s Parish, Toluca, prior to the start of a GIFT regional meeting in LaSalle on Dec. 5.

By: By Tom Dermody

Four months into the yearlong Growing in Faith Together (GIFT) diocese-wide planning initiative for the future of parish life, some nervousness and questions admittedly remain.

But as the process entered a new phase last week with two days of regional meetings, there were also many expressions of trust and hope.

“On Monday and Tuesday — between priests, deacons, religious and lay people — there were 850 persons at eight meetings talking about planning for the future of parish structures in this diocese,” said Msgr. Paul Showalter, vicar general. “I find that very moving.”

“I feel more confident about the process because I’m trusting the power of the Holy Spirit and the good Catholics we have in the Diocese of Peoria to help with this kind of planning,” he told The Catholic Post Wednesday.

Msgr. Showalter is diocesan project coordinator of GIFT, a major initiative involving all diocesan parishes and missions. Announced by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, in July, the process took another step last week as parishes were organized into neighboring “clusters” to evaluate ways to work together to better serve the people of God.

“I’m excited about it,” said Bishop Jenky in comments Tuesday at the start of a gathering of the Diocesan Planning Commission, a geographically representative group of about 20 persons who will play a key role in the process.

The bishop called the GIFT process “a great opportunity” for parishes to become more active in evangelization.

“We can start thinking of the church not as a social club but more in terms of evangelization, and how we do things better when we do them collectively.”

To that end, parish leaders involved in the process gathered for regional meetings in Peoria, Champaign, LaSalle, and Rock Island on Monday evening and in Washington, Bloomington, Ottawa and Monmouth the following night.

It was the second round of regional meetings, but the first time they sat at tables with neighboring parishes in their assigned “cluster.”

“We believe God has planned a future full of hope, but we’re not sure what it’s going to look like,” said Maureen Gallagher, a member of The Reid
Group of consultors that is guiding the diocese through the process. Speaking to 125 Catholics from dozens of area parishes who met in LaSalle Monday night, Gallagher walked the leaders through the next steps in the process.

All parishes in the diocese will be affected by the GIFT initiative and will propose a future model of parish life from one of four options: merged or consolidated parishes, linked parishes, partnership parishes, or an “in solidum” team approach. After rounds of dialogue and recommendations between the clusters and the Diocesan Planning Commission, Bishop Jenky is scheduled to make final decisions next August.

At the regional gathering in Monmouth on Tuesday, representatives from six Catholic parishes in Hancock and Henderson counties wore colorful matching t-shirts to express their unity and trust in the process. The shirts had the phrase “Why not us?” on the front and listed the churches on the back, according to Father Tony Trosley, pastor of all of the parishes.

“We’re six, but we are one,” said Father Trosley of the churches of St. Mary’s, Nauvoo; Sacred Heart, Warsaw; Sacred Heart, Dallas City; Immaculate Conception, Carthage; St. Mary’s, Hamilton; and St. Patrick’s, Raritan.

He said the shirts were a “a recognition of how distinct we are, and our key role in the communities we serve.”

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