Bold plans ask parishes to re-envision ‘everything we do’ in light of mission to help others encounter Christ
DETROIT — In 2014, the Archdiocese of Detroit began a year of intense prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in southeast Michigan.
At the prompting of that same Spirit, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron opened a historic synod in the archdiocese two years later, a three-day period in which clergy, religious and lay leaders came together to discern how God was calling the local Church to embrace a new missionary identity.
As a response to the graces of that synod, Archbishop Vigneron released a landmark pastoral letter in 2017 that charted a new course for the archdiocese, challenging clergy and lay faithful alike to “change the DNA” of the local Church from “an inward, or maintenance-focused church, to an outward, or mission-focused church.”
In 2019, it’s time to put that challenge into action.
On April 29, Archbishop Vigneron announced the next phase of Unleash the Gospel, a process that will involve the “renewal of the Archdiocese of Detroit parish by parish” as each community takes up the work of evangelization and culture change in a radical new way, Archbishop Vigneron said in a letter to priests of the archdiocese.
“I believe we in the Archdiocese are living in a time of special grace. We have begun to see the early fruits of our labor in our shared work to unleash the Gospel. God has heard our prayers and is blessing our efforts to become a missionary diocese. Christ himself is stirring the hearts of the faithful. In my meetings and interactions, I am hearing a renewed vitality and enthusiasm for our missionary enterprise,” Archbishop Vigneron says in the letter.
“And so, during these fifty days of Easter, when we rejoice in the victory of Christ, we are launching the next phase of the Unleash the Gospel movement – a renewal of the Archdiocese of Detroit parish-by-parish.”
The process will ask each parish to dream big about where the Holy Spirit is calling them to minister in their communities, and create a roadmap on how to realize that dream, the archbishop said.
“The world and our parishes need God’s mercy and love more than ever,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “For the Gospel to be truly unleashed in southeast Michigan, we must do everything we can to transform our parishes into places where individuals and families encounter Jesus anew, grow as disciples and are equipped to be witnesses of the Risen Christ.”
Archbishop Vigneron said the process will mirror that of Synod 16 on a local level, with each parish engaging in a period of prayer, reflection and discernment before developing a “missionary strategic plan” to align the parish’s resources and activities to the better serve the mission of evangelization.
“These plans will be a vehicle to respond to Synod 16 and its propositions for families and parishes. Since Catholic schools are an apostolate of the whole archdiocese, each parish’s Missionary Strategic Plans will include ways it will support Catholic education for its families and children,” the archbishop added.
Bringing the synod’s graces to the parish level
The process will begin with a small group of parishes — likely about 10 — to refine the process this summer, before more parishes join the movement in the months and years ahead, Archbishop Vigneron said.
These “partner parishes” will be identified over the next several weeks, with the goal of beginning the three-month process in June, said Fr. Stephen Pullis, director of the archdiocese’s Department of Evangelization, Catechesis and Schools.
“The fruit of this work will make the remaining 200-plus parish experiences all the richer,” Fr. Pullis said in an earlier letter to pastors.
Fr. Pullis added the process will mirror the “synod experience at the parish level” by encouraging discussion, collaboration and prayer, followed by a period of practical planning.
Each parish will begin with a period of “rigorous formation in the pastoral letter (Unleash the Gospel), guided by a missionary and firmly rooted in prayer,” Fr. Pullis said.
Parish intercessory prayer teams — formed during and after Synod 16 — will be called upon to “to begin praying for your own parish’s missionary conversion, as well as for the missionary conversion of all our parishes,” Fr. Pullis said.
The next phase will ask parishes to put pen to paper and to “dream big” about how best to “incorporate the vision and graces of Synod 16 and Unleash the Gospel into the very fabric of the parish,” Fr. Pullis said.
Fr. Pullis said the process will also draw cues from the recently completed school strategic planning process, which resulted in the January unveiling of a new vision for Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
One of the lessons of that process, he said, was to involve a “missionary facilitator” for each parish to guide the development and serve as a sounding board.
The missionary strategic plans will be built around Unleash the Gospel’s propositions related to parish and family renewal, which call for a culture of prayer and encounter with Jesus to be front and center in a parish’s life.
In the letter’s Propositions and Action Steps, Archbishop Vigneron laid out the vision for parishes “that are ready to welcome others and mobilized to evangelize: invite, connect, mentor and send families and individuals into mission.”
“Every activity and resource of the parish must be in alignment with the fundamental commitment to evangelization,” the letter states. “Parish leadership should manifest a healthy teamwork that is oriented to equip parishioners with the necessary training, formation, planning and resources to initiate and realize meaningful endeavors to extend the Gospel to every corner of the parish territory.”
Once each parish has finalized its missionary strategic plan, “it will begin the process to identify the resources needed to make that plan a reality,” Fr. Pullis said.
At Pentecost, the second anniversary of Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Vigneron said he will ask pastors to make a wider announcement to the faithful regarding the plans, as well as to share a special prayer for the success of the archdiocese’s missionary efforts.
“We are not alone. We cannot fail if we are in communion with the risen Christ and act in the power of his Spirit,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “As we did at the beginning of our movement in 2014, let us pray for the Holy Spirit to come and renew our parishes and each of us.”
“This prayer, to be used from Pentecost until Advent, will unite the archdiocese in prayer and call on the intercession of our Mother Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, and Father Solanus Casey, whom I have named our advocates for the next phase of our movement to renew our Archdiocese.”
In the meantime, more information and frequently asked questions — including a video about the next phase of Unleash the Gospel — can be found at www.unleashthegospel.org/next.
“We are not alone. We cannot fail if we are in communion with the risen Christ and act in the power of his Spirit,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “As we did at the beginning of our movement in 2014, let us pray for the Holy Spirit to come and renew our parishes and each of us. Let us pray for apostolic boldness. Let us pray that each one of our parishes may discern how it is called to unleash the Gospel through its unique set of gifts and circumstances.
“With eyes fixed on Jesus, through prayer and work, together, we will become who God wants us to become: a band of joyful missionary disciples in southeast Michigan,” the archbishop continued. “In the spirit of Blessed Fr. Solanus, I am thanking God ahead of time for our missionary transformation.”