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Synod Report March 2022
St. Bridget Catholic Church, River Falls
St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Hammond
St. Thomas More Newman Center, River Falls
This summary report reflects the prayful input from parishioners who attended one of three Synod gatherings for our parish cluster. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the direction of Pastor Father Joe Stefancin, Associate Pastor Father Joe Stefancin and Parish Administrator John Hueg, we held two gatherings at St. Bridget Church and one at St. Mary’s Church. Parishioners could attend any of the meetings.
This theme reflects recommendations about how we welcome people to our churches, Mass and events.
          1. Strive to be more gender neutral 
             Women are equally welcome at the table of the Lord. We can be more intentional in word choices to include women and men. For example, in our Profession of Faith we pray: “for us men and our salvation.” That was not intended to exclude women, yet it does. The Church can easily change that to “for us and our salvation.” As we look at our prayers, catechism and liturgy, we see many opportunities to assure men and women are included equally.
          2. Provide direction for visitors, new members and those unfamiliar with our liturgies, ritual and practices
              Adopt a “signal before you turn” attitude. Expect newcomers! We can make visitors, new members, infrequent attendees, young people and “church shoppers” feel more welcome by explaining what’s happening during Mass: direct them to songs and Mass parts in our hymnal; explain when and why we sit, stand and kneel; teach a new song or Mass part before Mass; point out the sacredness of our Mass. These explanations also serve as reminders for those who may have forgotten the “why” behind our practices.
          Can visitors easily find our front door, restrooms, and Mass times?
          3. Be inclusive of all groups
              Consider racial and ethnic diversity, gender bias, sexual orientation, single and married, those culturally marginalized and physically challenged in our choices and attitudes. Greet “pew partners” we haven’t met yet. Be interested in and hear everyone’s stories and journeys.
          Write liturgy so all may understand, not to flaunt vocabulary acumen. As an example, “consubstantial” is a power word that is difficult to understand by youth, visitors and many of our parishioners. Hug each other with our words.
          4. Invite our brothers and sisters to the table of the Lord
              Remove unnecessary barriers to full participation, including communion. Take off the cloak of “pharisee” with its rules and requirements. Put on the love of Jesus who embraced the leper, forgave the woman at the well, welcomed the tax collector, and ate with sinners.
          5. Embrace and empower all vocations equally with those of the priesthood and religious life
              While we pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life, we also must honor all vocations God has chosen for our parishioners.
          6. Help parishioners feel a sense of community within our church
              Whether in a big church or a small close-knit one, we want to know others and be known by name. Seek opportunities to help people know each other by name. For example, with COVID under control, we return to fellowship after Mass, giving people an opportunity to meet others over a donut and coffee. Get to know your “pew partners.” Hold social events.
          1. Ordaining women
             We believe women have the capacity, spirit and commission to be ordained deacons. We see evidence today of women who are actively fulfilling the physical duties of deacons in serving others. We believe they can also serve the sacramental duties.  We strengthen our church by embracing the best of what men and women bring.
          2. Called to the Priesthood
              Going further, we believe women, as well as men, are called to the priesthood. Bishop Robert Barrons reminds us, “The baptized serve as priests through their sacrificial efforts to bring people to God. They serve as prophets through their witness to the truth in word and deed. And they serve as kings in their efforts to lead others—again through word and deed—to use their talents to advance the Kingdom of God” (see CCC 1241). Surely, that applies to women and men.
          3. Visible role models
              Our churches need to hear and see women at the pulpit and in active leadership roles within our churches.
          1. Go ye into all the world and preach my Gospel!
             Don’t wait for people to enter our church doors. Many hunger for Jesus, but don’t know how to take the first step. Jesus didn’t wait for people to come to him in Nazareth; he crisscrossed the Holy Land to preach, teach and heal. We should do the same … meet people where they are and in the spaces they exist. Then, accompany them on their faith journeys. Our “holiness” should not keep us from those who need Jesus.
          2. Help parishioners know Jesus
              Help parishioners move beyond knowing “about Jesus” so they “know Jesus.” By knowing Jesus, they will be more confident in sharing their faith and spreading the Word. Instill a sense of joy and celebration in our Mass.
          3. Equip parishioners to evangelize, to wear and live their faith with confidence
              Don’t just offer, but INVITE/WELCOME/INVOLVE parishioners in book studies, bible studies, prayer groups and small gatherings where they can learn how to talk about their faith. The Synod is a good example. We need opportunities to practice talking about our faith.
              Perhaps an “RCIA-type” program for Catholics. Many feel they don’t know enough to talk about their faith. They are worried that someone will ask a question and they won’t know the answer. They feel the church has changed so much since they were confirmed that they shy away from faith sharing.
              Parents don’t know how to talk with their children about faith. They drop them at the church doors and drive away. How can we involve parents in their children’s faith journey and expand parents’ ability to evangelize within their homes, workplaces, and recreational environments?
          4. Serving in our church and community, then mentoring others
              We have dedicated people who serve in our church and community. We need more. The next step is to help them mentor others in that service as a witness of Jesus’s love.
          5. Help heal divisions
              We see the wounds of division, anger and animosity within the church, our homes, schools, communities, states, countries. Jesus called us to love one another, to forgive, to be one church. Our church can facilitate the hard discussions without judgment. Seek first to understand. Listen to others’ stories and pain. Find common ground.
          6. Reach out to youth – they are our future
              Youth-centered Masses, praise and worship, Adoration. Youth helping to lead faith formation. Youth Scripture readers.

          1. Married Priests
             Our church is strengthened by men who have followed a vocation to priesthood after the death of a wife. We believe married priests whose spouses are living also would enhance our church, bringing a depth of experience and understanding.
          2. Reconsider nonharmful, barrier forms of contraception
              Pregnancy can be life threatening for women based on age, health problems, previous pregnancies, and other issues. While natural family planning can be effective for some, it is not the answer for everyone.
          3. When our Church fails, we need to respond quickly and effectively
              The Church comprises people and, as humans, we fail at times. When failure/sin occurs, we need to be prepared to explain simply, honestly and humbly. Then, we must ask forgiveness and take action to assure it will not happen again. Our response must be timely and transparent, assuring that all levels of the church are informed and can answer local questions with empathy and assurance. This is Public Relations 101 for all organizations … including the Church.

It’s easier to say than do, but we have too many examples of the damage we have done to our Church by failing in this important task.

Equally, we should share our accomplishments and good news.

St. Bridget Planning


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