by Dean Backes
Special to The Leaven
PRAIRIE VILLAGE — When on behalf of the Synod of Bishops Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann asked each parish of the archdiocese to conduct listening sessions on the topic of their Catholic faith, St. Ann Parish leadership here took the request to heart.
Listen they did. And they didn’t stop there.
After reviewing responses gathered at the listening sessions, the pastoral council and pastor Father Craig Maxim used the responses to identify areas of concern.
Then, in the spirit of Pope Francis’ upcoming synod, which adopted the theme: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission,” they opened up a dialogue with parishioners of all ages.
“The parish belongs to the community that makes up the parish and it’s that community’s responsibility to build it and grow it and strengthen it,” said pastoral council chairperson Aaron Deacon. “We wanted to take proactive action.
“We invited people to find things they wanted to work on and ways that they wanted to be actively participating and growing the parish.”
In order to engage St. Ann’s parishioners and organize the ideas that they came up with, Father Maxim and the pastoral council called on parishioner Mike Brown, who created a strategic planning and consultancy business in 2009 called BrainZooming, to lend a helping hand.
Through his work, Brown engages businesses — or in this case, parishioners — and implements a method in which his clients come up with solutions to the problems they encounter.
In an attempt to hear every voice and involve all walks of life, Brown ran a youth session, along with two adult sessions last fall. He described the short but highly productive kids’ session as a 20-minute whirlwind.
“There were a lot of incredible ideas from the kids,” Brown recalled. “That’s where the value comes out. Usually, they would never be involved in a parish strategy planning process. When it was proposed, I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do the kids. Let’s start there.’”
With the assistance of Brown and Father Maxim, who said he was there to support the parishioners and the pastoral council, the committee has designed a plan that incorporates three phases, the first of which was to work on projects that could be started right away.
Then, they focused a year down the road and finally they’ll take a look at those projects that are considered long-term, or three years or more in the future. For starters, the parish has begun making improvements to the church cry room, is working on a youth Mass and has started revamping its music.
“Down the road, the BrainZooming process will help the parish move forward and implement the concerns of the parishioners,” Father Maxim said. “Some things we were able to do immediately. Other concerns will be further down the road, such as installing a new sound system.”
According to pastoral council member Suzanne Ruhlman, teams are being formed to begin implementing the many ideas that have been brought to them. Taking into consideration the parish’s mission statement: “We Are a Faith-Filled Community That Lives the Love of God Through Word, Sacrament and Service,” six teams have been formed to move the process forward.
A member of the pastoral council has been put in charge of each one of the six teams. Ruhlman heads up the “Thriving as a Faith-Filled Community” group, while the “Building the Body of Christ in Word and Sacrament” team is Deacon’s to guide.
Other teams that have been formed are “Building a Welcoming Catholic Parish”; “Living the Love of God Daily”; “Offering Service to God’s Vulnerability”; and “Embracing Young Parishioners.” It will be crucial for Ruhlman, Deacon and other group leaders to communicate with each other to protect against too much overlap.
For Ruhlman, making sure that the parish and its school are interconnected, pulling people back to their faith and bringing people together are desired outcomes of St. Ann’s current pastoral planning.
“People come and go without knowing each other,” Ruhlman said. “We need to be more involved and welcome people to church versus just coming to church and leaving. People want to be more of a part of the parish. We have to figure out how to get them to stay — figure out how to keep them around longer, instead of just coming and going for Mass.”
With such a strong turnout to the brainstorming sessions, Deacon and Ruhlman aren’t concerned about finding volunteers for the many projects they’ll tackle over the next few years. But time and the amount of work the projects will take are concerns for Deacon.
“We already have so many people who are giving so much to the parish,” Deacon said. “It’s not like we’re asking for volunteers in an environment where everyone has just been sitting on their hands. We have dozens and dozens of ministries and people that are taking new action, making changes and doing things.”
Both Ruhlman and Deacon said they would recommend the process St. Ann’s has utilized through Brown’s BrainZooming sessions.
“The BrainZooming sessions we did were a great community builder,” Ruhlman said. “It’s important to give everybody a voice. Our church is our connector to a lot of things. By doing this, we are allowing people to have an input into this part of their life.”