SEATTLE – Understanding the key factors that help parishes flourish and forging a new path for a parish or group of parishes to make them more effective in their mission is the aim of a new phase of the archdiocese’s strategic planning process.
“We have to face today’s reality and recognize that the way our archdiocese was structured 100, 50 or even 20 years ago is less effective now than in the past,” said Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, who was appointed in February by Archbishop Paul D. Etienne to lead the current strategic planning work that builds upon past efforts.
As is seen in other American dioceses, the traditional neighborhood parish serving local Catholic families has struggled to survive amid changing demographics, urbanization and other factors. In the Archdiocese of Seattle, there has been a decrease in Mass attendance, celebration of sacraments and Catholic converts, resulting in a surplus of parishes across the archdiocese.
“We must have the courage to change to become a stronger Catholic Church that provides excellent pastoral care for its faithful and effectively serves the mission of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Mueggenborg said.
To better serve the faithful, the archdiocese has closed six parishes and missions and merged two since 2005. In addition, eight parishes have been created since 1996, including two missions elevated to parish status (see box).
These decisions came from strategic planning work by the archdiocese’s deaneries, 10 regional groups of parishes that meet regularly to discuss regional issues, share resources, plan, pray and provide support to each other. The deaneries also have an extensive process of consultation with parish leadership and parishioners.
But now “the time has come for us to review the deanery strategic plans and implement changes that focus on Christ’s mission for the Church in Western Washington,” Archbishop Etienne said.
He pointed to Pope Francis’ call for a “pastoral conversion of the parish community” in an instruction issued this summer by the Vatican.
“Since its inception,” the instruction said, “the Parish is envisioned as a response to a precise pastoral need, namely that of bringing the Gospel to the People through the proclamation of the faith and the celebration of the Sacraments. … If the Parish does not exude that spiritual dynamic of evangelization, it runs the risk of becoming self-referential and fossilized, offering experiences that are devoid of evangelical flavor and missionary drive, of interest only to small groups.”
“I am so grateful to our pastors and parish leaders for their renewed effort to prepare for the future of our archdiocese,” Archbishop Etienne said.
Consistent criteria to gauge parish vitality
As part of its work, the archdiocese’s Strategic Planning Committee, led by Bishop Mueggenborg, saw a need to create a consistent set of criteria for evaluating the health of parishes around the archdiocese.
That effort began in 2019 with the Parish Vitality Task Force, which included clergy, lay parish leaders, parish staff, Catholic educators and chancery administrators. The task force explored a holistic view of a parish’s strengths and weaknesses in areas including sacramental participation, the attraction and formation of disciples, community outreach, liturgical engagement and lay leadership participation.
Now the Strategic Planning Committee will begin using the metrics developed by the task force to create standard ways for every parish to review and assess its own vitality.
“There is no single criteria to determine parish vitality,” Bishop Mueggenborg said. “We are looking at a composite of factors beyond finances, demographics and Mass attendance … to really understand the whole picture.”
“By using a consistent set of criteria,” he explained, “we can identify symptoms of a fragile parish and offer all parishes a clear set of indicators that can potentially strengthen their mission effectiveness.”
Using archdiocesan data along with the deanery recommendations and vitality data from each parish, the Strategic Planning Committee will begin assessing areas of strength and weakness across the archdiocese. When opportunities for change emerge, the committee will partner with the dean, pastoral leaders and parishioners to forge a new path for a parish or group of parishes.
In addition, the Strategic Planning Committee is using a more robust tool, called the Parish Vitality Index, for planning when there is an urgent need. Parishes in the Pierce Deanery will be the first to use this tool for their strategic planning, which accelerated after Holy Rosary Parish in Tacoma was determined to no longer be viable.
The rest of the archdiocese will receive guidance on how to think through the metrics so that all parish communities can begin to assess strengths and opportunities for growth within their own ministries and pastoral efforts.
“Strategic planning is an extensive process to examine the needs of Catholics and how to provide for them,” Bishop Mueggenborg said. “It’s about heeding the pope’s call for us to ‘read the signs of the time, while adapting both to the needs of the faithful and to historical changes.’”
“We must not forget the power of prayer in this process,” Bishop Mueggenborg added. “We will rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us on this journey.”
Parishes/missions that have closed
St. Urban (2005), former mission of Sacred Heart, Winlock
St. Patrick, Dockton (2011), former mission of St. John Vianney, Vashon
Sts. Peter and Paul, Aberdeen (2016)
Sacred Heart, Winlock (2017)
Our Lady of Lourdes, Wilkeson (2017)
St. Joseph, Pe Ell; and Holy Family, Frances (2017), merged to form St. Joseph Parish at Holy Family, Frances
Sacred Heart, Morton (2019)
Newly opened parishes
Holy Disciples, Puyallup (1996)
Holy Redeemer, Vancouver (2000)
St. Teresa of Calcutta, Woodinville (2004)
Holy Innocents, Duvall (2004), former mission that became a parish
Holy Cross, Lake Stevens (2004), former mission that became a parish
North American Martyrs, Edmonds (2008)
Christ Our Hope, Seattle (2009)
St. Andrew Kim, Seattle (2010)
St. Paul Chong Hasang, Fife (2010)
Vietnamese Martyrs, Tukwila (2010)
St. Joseph, Tacoma (2015), new community in pre-existing parish
Members of the Strategic Planning Committee
Father Paul Magnano (Northern Deanery)
Father David Young (Olympic Deanery)
Father Vince Gilmore (Snohomish Deanery)
Father Philip Raether (North Seattle Deanery)
Father Michael Ryan (South Seattle Deanery)
Father Todd Strange (Eastside Deanery)
Father Timothy Ilgen (South Sound Deanery)
Father James Northrop (South King Deanery)
Father Jerry Burns (Pierce Deanery)
Father Bryan Ochs (Southern Deanery)
Father Gary Lazzeroni (Southern Deanery)
Leigh Stringfellow (Planning & Mission Effectiveness)
Father Bryan Dolejsi (Vocations)
Kristin Dixon (Catholic Schools)
Tim Hunt (Planning & Mission Effectiveness)
Maria Laughlin (South Seattle Planning)
Mary Santi (Canon Law/HR)
Scott Bader (Parish Finances)
Joe Schick (Archdiocesan Finances)
Ed Foster (Property)
Helen McClenahan (Communications)
Father Brad Hagelin (Vicar for Charities)
Father Gary Zender (Vicar for Clergy)