Synod implementation beginning to roll across diocese

CHARLESTON — Six weeks into his first-ever diocesan job, former Air Force analyst and computer consultant Jay E. LeVan sat down with The Miscellany last week and gave us his first impressions as the director of Planning and Synod Implementation.

LeVan has traveled among the parishes of the Diocese of Charleston during his first months on the job; he found a general awakening and renewal of spirit, with a little resistance thrown in.

“I found a general perception that people are receiving us when we tell them that this is your church and that they need to take an active part in defining the church,” LeVan said. “I think we’re at the stage when clusters come together that some people have the insight to say, What can we do?”

The diocese prompts such responses by asking them such realism queries as: What are you going to do if there is one fewer priest in your cluster?

The faithful of the Church of Charleston are beginning to realize that the traditional parish model where people relied on the priest for everything is changing. The tendency to resist empowerment is still noticeable in some parishes, especially among the older laity, he said, and the concept of a pastoral administrator who is a sister or a brother is still not readily accepted in all parishes. He noticed a burgeoning interest in the diaconate program: “There is a hope that deacons could do a lot to enhance the ability to serve the parishes.”

Clusters can also pool resources to hire a pastoral administrator or a youth minister, and there is discussion of those possibilities taking place across the state. Lay people at cluster meetings are beginning to discuss concrete problems, he said, and are finding viable solutions to some of them. Youth and the necessity of serving them on the parish level is the single biggest issue he has heard discussed in the parishes he visited.

“In almost all the cluster meetings I attended, the problem of youth was a core issue. Parish leaders want to know what they can do for the spiritual life of youth once they pass the eighth grade. They want to improve their social environment and their sense of identity. Joe Maggio (of St. Mary Magdalene Parish) said that if we can get them to come to receive the Eucharist, then positive things will start to happen. The people are eager for Jerry White to get here; there’s a real need for his role.” White is the newly hired diocesan youth director; he will begin work on July 1.

Evangelization was the second most discussed topic LeVan heard in his travels. He said that it is close to an emotional issue for some people. On one hand, they want to feel secure in their own faith and in what it means to be a Catholic, and on the other hand, they want to know what evangelization really entails and what role they play in that ministry.

“They ask, ‘Do you want me to go stand on a corner with a tract? Are we supposed to go out after a meeting and bring back two more Catholics?’ These are the kinds of questions in some people’s minds. Catholics have been private for so long, that this poses a different model for them. But many understand a broader sense of evangelization. One common aspect of the question is evolving into an outreach for inactive Catholics. That’s a role that is suited to most.”

The role of the diocese in parish planning is changing in the minds of the faithful also, LeVan said. The idea that the Synod of Charleston was, and is, a pronouncement from the top is fading as the faithful gain confidence in the motivation of the bishop of Charleston. Despite what he called the normal resistance to change, people are accepting the responsibility of planning responsibly.

“Bishop (David B.) Thompson accepts his role as leader of the diocese, but he’s not possessive about it. People are beginning to see that the Synod was his approach to capture a process for improving the Church. They see what he meant when he said that, when we’re all done, how we relate to Christ is what counts.”

LeVan has been charting what would be productivity curves in a business and finds the diocese as a whole to be further along on the curve than he expected. Clusters are already finding answers to specific problems and he sees that continuing along until momentum builds. The planner anticipates that the diocese will reap the harvest of this work in two to three years.

“Synod implementation is at a critical stage, the stage where people are accepting their responsibility to take the Church where it has to go. The process I’m taking on is this thread: How do we turn this into a process that is not ad hoc, but is occurring in simple increments that can be repeated in different parishes?”

Jay LeVan praised the work of the cluster facilitators and promised to continue visiting them in their work.