By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
SUMMERVILLE — The wheels of thought were turning at the close of the first class of the Institute for Parish Leadership Development at its Summerville Catholic School meeting May 6.
Eleven participants sat down with vague ideas about their goals, having only a simple commitment to be involved, but they left with direction and an eagerness to hear more.
One student, Dr. Jim Whitford, who directs RCIA at Immaculate Conception in Goose Greek, said that he thought the Institute will be helpful in all ministries.
“Our life is a ministry no matter what we do,” he said.
And that life ministry was a reoccurring theme for Brother Ed Bergeron, CSF, pastoral administrator at St. John Church in North Charleston, who taught the class.
“We are all called to leadership right down to the first grader and we are even challenging them to be witnesses and leaders,” Brother Bergeron emphasized. He spent the evening describing those challenges and giving descriptions of leadership and the varying styles that are enacted as a result.
All of the Institute’s students are already active in various leadership roles in their individual parishes ranging from priests and deacons to administrators and laity. Brother Bergeron explained how, through 20 classes, they will learn more in-depth the responsibilities and qualities that come with the task.
Topics they will cover include: the call to leadership; spirituality for leadership; prayer and worship; the Eucharist; other forms of public worship; prayer for small groups; evangelization and reconciliation; Christian formation; stewardship; social teaching of the church; building community; and the leader as manager. It will conclude with projects designed to provide ideas and insights, and an evaluation of the Institute.
“The course was designed to put everyone on a level playing field,” Brother Bergeron said.
The curriculum is based on Synod foundation issues and was developed by Father Joseph Wahl, CO, director, and Sister Clare Reinert, SSND, board member. One of the primary messages the course conveys is that all Catholics are called to take an active leading role in their faith.
“I think it is urgent and important,” Brother Bergeron explained, “because it is an invitation to return to our early Christian community to that inspiration and dynamism of our early church with 2,000 years of experience added to it.”
He stressed that in the early church many people carried on serious responsibilities.
“We are more than 30 years past Vatican II we have to take and implement it more fully,” he added.
In his own parish, the Christian Brother said he sees a core group of 18 people who do everything, a number the Institute teachings aim to increase. His students, all from different parishes, nodded their heads in agreement.
“We need to promote ownership and involvement,” he explained. “That is the church. We need to meet the needs of God’s people, theologically based and solid in the church’s foundation.”
Some of the materials provided for the leaders in training included definitions of leadership such as: turning vision to action, influencing a group of people to achieve their goals, motivating, opening doors to new possibilities, using gifts of the group to fulfill its own purpose, managing resources, facilitating reconstruction of world views and making them change, and being open to being personally transformed.
“Leaders engender leaders,” Brother Bergeron philosophized. “Leaders who create followers are not really leading. Leadership is about revealing the compassionate Christ. It’s not about beating people up.”
One of the challenges the group faces, according to Brother Bergeron, is the transition from old to new. Something that he feels needs to be approached with “a deep sense of compassion.”
Brother Bergeron also lead the class at Blessed Sacrament Church and said that both have had a good response.
“People are here looking for something,” he said. “Their expectations are pretty broad but that indicates an obvious hunger.”
Reflections from participants in the Blessed Sacrament course stressed the importance of leaders having a sound spiritual life in everyday life, at work and at home. That was pointed out in Summerville’s class by Father Frank Palmieri, pastor of Immaculate Conception. He said that people must be more spiritual themselves and bring it out in others.
At the end of the class, the participants felt they had gained a little more insight into what they expected from themselves. Rhoda Hiott and her sister, Susan, came from St. John the Beloved in Summerville. Both are members of the Stewardship Committee there.
“I had no idea what this would be about,” Rhoda said. “It sounded like a great opportunity to learn more about our church and to help implement the synod. I think it will keep us going in the right direction.”
Karen said she hoped it will help keep separate parishes in a closer, networking relationship but they agreed that defining leadership qualities beyond a one-meaning definition was inspiring.
Ralph Keene, vice president of the parish council at Immaculate Conception and a religion teacher at Summerville Catholic, said he attended the Institute because he sees the church changing and wants to be prepared.
“We’re at a time when we need transitional leaders meaning leaders who understand the role of transition,” he said.
He sees the need for bridging the progression of old and new and has confidence in what he will learn.
“Anytime you have people you have challenges and that’s why you need good leaders,” he said. “We need to be prepared to know what our role is going to be. It’s easy to say you are a leader but it’s not so easy to be a leader.”