Bishop Tylka announces 2-year pastoral planning process, “Growing Disciples”
With enthusiasm and an invitation for wide participation, Bishop Louis Tylka on Aug. 3 announced the Diocese of Peoria is embarking on a two-year pastoral planning process “to move further into the mission which Christ has given us: to go make disciples.”
The initiative, called “Growing Disciples,” will assess the current network of parishes and schools “so that we can not only meet the ministry challenges of today, but we can also grow a vibrant, sustainable mission-driven Church for the future,” said Bishop Tylka.
In a video message to all Catholics of the diocese, the bishop asked for prayers, listening and feedback from the faithful as the new process unfolds.
“We must recognize that in each successive generation, we are called to read the signs of the times and, entrusting our discipleship to the Holy Spirit, discern the path forward,” said Bishop Tylka.
Since his ordination as a bishop on July 23, 2020, Bishop Tylka has travelled extensively throughout the diocese, meeting with all priests and conducting listening sessions with lay leaders in each vicariate.
“Growing Disciples” and its goals evolved from what Bishop Tylka learned from those and other encounters.
In emailed letters to pastors, parishes and diocesan leaders on Aug. 3, Bishop Tylka outlined those goals, which include:
- enhancing the vibrancy of our parishes, schools and ministries
- increasing support of the happiness, health and holiness of our priests, and
- enabling the faithful to go make disciples within a mission-driven, sustainable structure of parishes and schools.
“Over the next two years, together we will engage in a time of prayer, dialogue and discernment to look to the future of our Church across north central Illinois,” said Bishop Tylka in the video announcement. The video is prominent on the diocesan website and is being promoted via social media.
“We have inherited a rich legacy from previous generations who built up our local communities of faith,” he continued. “Our work in this process is to honor their legacy by ensuring a bright future of bringing others to Christ Jesus.”
CHALLENGES AND “GREAT HOPE”
To that end, a Diocesan Pastoral Planning Commission will soon be established with representatives from each vicariate as well as diocesan leaders. Preliminary planning has been done by a core team established by Bishop Tylka that includes Msgr. Mark Merdian, pastor of the Ottawa Catholic Community parishes; Father David Richardson, pastor of St. Philomena Parish in Peoria; Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, diocesan vocations director for recruitment; and Amanda Connon, newly hired diocesan director of information management.
Helping to design and execute the pastoral planning process is the Catholic Leadership Institute, a lay apostolate based in Philadelphia.
Among the challenges expected to be addressed in the next two years are a changing regional and diocesan landscape, national trends regarding religion, and too few priests to adequately staff more than 150 parishes.
While acknowledging the challenges, Bishop Tylka said there is also “great hope.” He used rural images familiar in central Illinois to acknowledge “the seeds of our faith planted in the fertile soil of many hearts,” and to explain the task ahead.
“Looking to the landscape which surrounds us, we see that year after year, the soil is tilled, planted, nurtured and yields good fruit,” he said in the video. “Likewise, in the Church, we must do the necessary tasks which will yield an abundant harvest for the Kingdom of God.”
Bishop Tylka said the process now underway “will afford us the opportunity to pray, assess, discern, dream, and do.”
A timeline released with the Aug. 3 announcement calls for focus groups to be conducted with priests, deacons, parish and school leaders this fall. Parishes will designate a “Primary Point of Contact” to assist with data collection and information sharing.
The pastoral planning process will incorporate the “five foundations” outlined by Bishop Tylka in his message for Easter 2022 — evangelization, the Eucharist, discipleship, vocations, and the legacy of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Bishop Tylka’s video message outlined a dream “of a church more alive, rooted in the foundations of discipleship and evangelization, of the importance and centrality of the Eucharist as the source and summit of our lives, and living out our vocations in service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
He asked that Archbishop Sheen’s example of embracing God’s plan in his life “be for us an inspiration to move forward in our efforts to grow disciples.”
The new pastoral planning process will build upon what was learned from the “Growing in Faith Together” diocese-wide initiative a decade ago. It will be more comprehensive in scope and implementation.
Initial proposals for parish and school configurations are to be made and reviewed in 2023, with a pastoral plan finalized by Pentecost 2024. Implementation of new structures would take place in the following two years.
A “Growing Disciples” website has been established. In addition to the video in both English and Spanish, it includes a timeline, answers to anticipated questions about the pastoral planning process, a special prayer that Bishop Tylka hopes will be widely used during the process, and further resources. More information will be provided in the months to come.