STRATFORD—In 2024, the name of the game is parish collaboration. And it’s a theme that is both old and new in the Catholic community of Stratford, which is home to five parishes and new ideas for working together.
The fourth of nine parish collaboration meetings hosted by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano took place on January 20 at St. Mark School in Stratford. These regional collaboration meetings offer ways for parishes in the same geographical area to share ideas, resources and challenges and facilitate new ways for them to collaborate.
They will ultimately help support the bishop’s vision of “The One,” which is an effort to renew Catholic culture and bring every believer closer to Christ.
In Stratford, some of these collaborative efforts are underway—or have been for quite some time. Previously, in order to boost Mass attendance and provide more time options, the five pastors worked together to create a new Sunday Mass schedule, ensuring that beginning at 7:30 am, another Mass would begin every half four at one of the five Catholic parishes in Stratford. And if a parishioner of one parish attends Mass at a different Stratford parish one Sunday, the pastors also agreed to redirect envelopes in the offertory basket to their respective “homes.”
But as a new year begins, so do new opportunities for collaboration. And Bishop Caggiano thinks those collaborations can help address problems the parish communities have in common.
“We have to be able to address challenges that, quite frankly, are so big that no single parish can face them alone,” the bishop said. “And that requires collaboration across parish lines.”
The Stratford parishes are among three communities acting as pilots for the Seton Collaborative, along with select parishes in Norwalk and Fairfield. In Stratford, collaboration is primarily taking place under “comprehensive formation in discipleship,” encompassing baptism, parish religious education, Confirmation, RCIA, and adult faith formation. The effort is being undertaken by Colin Petramale, the newly-hired Director of Discipleship for the Stratford parishes.
As new opportunities for collaboration emerge, the bishop said that it is still important for parish communities to retain their identity.
“Collaboration does not mean that one parish becomes less important than another,” the bishop said. “It means that all get better. Ministry is more effective when we work together.
“The truth is that every aspect of our lives needs to be shared,” he continued. “That does not mean parishes will lose their identity. That is not the case. If anything, it will strengthen their identity, because we are a family within a family.”
The bishop asked those gathered to consider the challenges that faced their communities, and to determine which they felt was the most pressing matter. That one question would guide the remainder of the meeting, as well as possible collaborative efforts that could address those challenges.
One of the challenges mentioned was how to retain younger Catholics in parish communities, especially those who had aged out of formal religious education, as well as college students and people in their 20s and 30s.
Bishop Caggiano noted a startling statistic among this age demographic, who had been raised Catholic but no longer participated in the faith: the number one reason for that disaffiliation was perceived hypocrisy of Church leaders and higher-ups.
“What makes you different from politicians and government leaders and business leaders and everybody else out there who says one thing and does another?” Bishop Caggiano asked. “That, my friend, is fodder for real soul-searching among Christians—not just Catholics, but Christians in general. That is why, in my mind, The One is very important: we’re going to invite people, young people particularly, back to church, where I think they will sense that we mean what we say, and we live what we (say).”
Part of the solution to that problem, the bishop said, was building parish communities and families that are welcoming and loving toward young people.
“We have to create a culture, an environment, a place which is both physical and spiritual, where young people will say, ‘My goodness, look at that! They really do care for each other. They really do now their names, and they actually care for me. This may be worth it, because what I see over here, I’m not exactly sure if it’s worth it.'”
The bishop also said in this new age of collaboration, there is a need to redefine success. To him, it can no longer be simply a numbers game.
“Would you rather have 100 people come to an event and 90 of them not be inspired, or would you rather have 45 people at the event, and all 45 of them are on fire?” the bishop asked.
To the bishop, collaboration is essential for the parishes and their congregations to become missionary in their outreach and in their relationships with each other.
“Your pastors,” he said, recognizing the five Stratford pastors, “have agreed to go off on their own for a day to reflect, to see what are the priorities they’ve hear from you and from me, (and) to be able to say, ‘These are the issues that we want tot work on together,'” the bishop said. “We don’t simply want to do window dressing. We want to change the trajectory of the Church, the Catholic community here in Stratford. So it takes a bit of time and discernment.”
The next regional collaboration meeting will take place on Saturday, February 3 at 8:30 am at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilton. The meeting will focus on collaboration between the parishes in the Seat of Wisdom Deanery, which encompasses Georgetown, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton. No pre-registration is required.
For more information on the bishop’s initiative, please visit www.formationreimagined.org/the-one
By Rose Brennan