As a result of the financial implications of the pandemic, the archdiocese is accelerating the Renew My Church process. It is adding more parishes to the wave 4 discernment process and will finish the process a year earlier than planned.
“The urgency to look now is because of the financial challenges and the real structural challenges that the pandemic poses. It is also the dual element of even before the pandemic, in some areas, there was a desire to move forward,” said Tim Weiske, director of Strategic Planning and Implementation.
Parishes reached out to the archdiocese asking to move up the timeline for the discernment process in their groupings.
“There is an appetite to talk about those questions that come through the discernment process of Renew My Church so people would have clarity on what would things look like moving forward,” Weiske said.
To accommodate the acceleration, Renew My Church staff looked at how to support all of the parishes equally and well, he said. That will include a staggered schedule of parishes going through wave 4, which is set to start in the fall.
Originally there were six waves of discernment and decisions, but there will now be five, explained Auxiliary Bishop Robert Casey, vicar of Vicariate III.
“The truth is nothing has changed. It’s just that the pandemic has shed a brighter light on that reality,” Bishop Casey said. “The realities that our archdiocese has been facing are the same, they are just more intense due to the pandemic. Those realities are, how do we best utilize our resources to create a vital and vibrant Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Chicago? It’s a question of stewardship.”
Those resources include people, parishes, finances and schools, with the goal of moving from maintenance to mission, he said.
“All of us need to remember that Renew My Church isn’t a program. It’s the air we breathe,” he said. “With Renew My Church, it’s a change in being. Our understanding of who we are as church is changing and that’s a challenge.”
Some parishes say they wish they had more time to go through the discernment process but time isn’t something the church has in these cases, Bishop Casey said.
“The truth is we don’t have the number of priests that we used to have. We don’t have the finances to hire staff like we should have to engage mission. We don’t have the finances to invest in so many of our buildings that need so much work,” he said. “It would be nice if we had time to be a little slower in our discernment but we don’t have that gift of time. And now with the impact of the pandemic the necessity for renewal is even greater.”
While he recognizes that the change brought forth through the discernment process is difficult and often painful, Bishop Casey sees hope in the entire renewal process of Renew My Church.
“To look at what we are facing as church right now, you could easily surrender to the temptation of despair. But there is an alternative,” he said. “Opening your eyes to the reality also can awaken in you the excitement of this moment. We have an opportunity to reengage the mission of the church in this present moment. That’s exciting.”