December 23, 2016

Workshop helps pastoral leaders ‘look deeper’ at what they do

Priests listen to a presenter at the Toolbox for Pastoral Leaders workshop at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Saint Meinrad on Sept. 29. The workshop was made possible through the archdiocesan Empowering Pastoral Leaders for Excellence in Parish Leadership and Management project, which is funded through a Lilly Endowment grant. (Submitted photo)

Priests listen to a presenter at the Toolbox for Pastoral Leaders workshop at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Saint Meinrad on Sept. 29. The workshop was made possible through the archdiocesan Empowering Pastoral Leaders for Excellence in Parish Leadership and Management project, which is funded through a Lilly Endowment grant. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Father Daniel Bedel became a parish administrator for the first time this summer, he admits that, “with only two years of priesthood under my belt, I was scared to death!”

He cites a long list of skills he needed to hone, including “how to manage a staff, how to maintain a healthy schedule and avoid burnout, how to inspire vision and mission at the parish to help it grow in holiness and strength, [and] how to be a well-rounded priest who could teach, sanctify and govern.”

Fortunately for Father Bedel, he had an opportunity in September to learn about these areas at the Toolbox for Pastoral Management workshop. It was sponsored by the Empowering Pastoral Leaders for Excellence in Parish Leadership and Management project, funded by a three-year grant from the Lilly Endowment.

Father Bedel, administrator of St. Margaret Mary and St. Patrick parishes in Terre Haute, lauds the pastoral management training he received while in formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Saint Meinrad. But he admits that “there’s a big difference from the theory of the classroom and the reality of the parish.”

He was joined by 18 other priests from the archdiocese and one from the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich., for the five‑day workshop on Sept. 26-30 at Saint Meinrad.

“It was great to attend a workshop that directly spoke to the issues and worries I was experiencing as a new administrator in the midst of parish work,” he says.

“I walked away with about 50 pages of notes that I’m still referencing and using months after the fact.

“Not only did the workshop bring in knowledgeable speakers that presented topics of great interest and utility to pastors, but it also brought together under one roof a wide range of ages and backgrounds from within our own presbyterate.

“There were new guys like me who were simply happy to sit in the back row and take in as much information as possible. And then there were veterans with decades of firsthand experiences who shared their stories about what worked and what didn’t work for them.”

Father Thomas Clegg, pastor of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg, is one such priest, with 26 years of parish pastoral experience.

But even he benefited from the Toolbox for Pastoral Management workshop.

“There’s always things to learn. To me, being a pastor is an art. As with any art, there’s always another way to look at things, another avenue to reach the target,” he says. “It’s the exciting part of being a pastor—learning more and different ways to accomplish the mission of God’s work.

“In some ways, [the workshop] helped me to feel good about some of the stuff we’ve been doing at St. John Paul II.”

The workshop was created by the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. The group also created and offered a separate two-day Toolbox workshop for parish life coordinators and business managers, held in November at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis.

Franciscan Sister Shirley Gerth has been a parish life coordinator for 25 years, currently serving in that role at St. Maurice Parish in Napoleon. Like Father Clegg, Sister Shirley was open to learning new strategies despite her years of experience.

In addition to being impressed by the presenters, she appreciated the faith perspective from which they approached their topics.

“They themselves were people of faith,” she says. “It’s more taught than caught. If you live the faith, that can be picked up by people without saying anything. I appreciated them being people of faith, and that came across in their sessions.”

Molly Ellsworth, business manager of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, found the workshop helpful not just in a practical sense, but also as a reminder of “the big picture,” that “what my job is, is to support the mission of the Catholic Church.”

She appreciates the opportunity not just to learn best practices for her line of work, but also to network with her peers.

“When you put however many of us in a room, it’s really nice to get feedback from other folks, to see what they’re doing and let you know you’re not alone, that you’re facing the same challenges.”

The results from both workshops were overwhelmingly positive. According to Matt Hayes, Empowering Pastoral Leaders project manager, the workshop for priests received an overall rating of 4.9 on a scale of one to five, and the shorter workshop received a rating of 4.88.

“One of the things a number of them said in both groups was it was like drinking from a firehose, because there was so much great information,” he says. “And I heard a number of priests say, ‘This was the best workshop I’ve ever gone to.’ ”

All of those interviewed expressed deep gratitude for the opportunity to focus on the management aspects of their pastoral jobs.

“I think it’s very important, because it’s a time to step back from the desk and day-to-day routine, [to] look deeper at what it is we do every day to make sure we’re doing the right things for the right reasons,” says Ellsworth.

Father Clegg agrees.

“Any continuing education opportunity, especially good ones like this, is such a blessing to help keep us motivated, to help keep us on track, to help us hone in on our purpose and our mission. To make those things available is a blessing that our archdiocese has taken advantage of through this grant program.”

Sister Shirley believes that “any new person in pastoral leadership would benefit from attending something similar to this.”

Continuing to make this and similar workshops available was a goal that retired Father Jeffrey Godecker had in mind when writing the application for the Lilly Endowment grant.

“A part of the grant work is how do we sustain what we started, how does it continue,” he explains. “We’re already looking at that.

“We were overdue, I think, to do something like this. … Management has gotten so complicated and requires a good many more skills than it did 30-40 years ago [when] there was hardly any lay staff. Now priests [and parish life coordinators] must manage, evaluate and motivate their staff, help their staff to do a better job. How [do they] do that in a way that is effective and good for the parish and good for each minister?”

Those were just the type of questions Father Bedel was hoping to have answered at the Toolbox for Pastoral Management.

“Contrary to popular belief, we’re human too, and we need opportunities to grow and learn just like anyone else,” he says. “Perhaps more than anyone else, because we’re in the business of saving souls and bringing people to Jesus Christ.”
 

(The next Toolbox for Pastoral Management is scheduled for Sept. 5-8, 2017, at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis. For more information on the Empowering Pastoral Leaders project and its offerings, log on to www.archindy.org/leadership or contact Matt Hayes at 317-236-1562, 800-382-9836, ext. 1562, or mhayes@archindy.org.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!