By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
CHARLESTON — Something clicked in the Cathedral Center May 14. It was the sound of a cluster meeting coming together.
Perhaps it was the combination of a visit by Bishop David B. Thompson, the addition of parish council members or just a matter of time, but organizers and participants of the Peninsular Charleston cluster could feel the pique of interest, the source of motivation.
“The parishes are coming together in a dialogue and talking about their strengths and weaknesses,” said Joan Mack, the group facilitator. “And when people think that their problems are unique, then come to the cluster meeting and hear that other parishes are experiencing the same thing — that’s when you can really get something done.”
Though the group has met many times over the last year and a half, the invitation of the parish council members increased the amount of participants and resulted in what Mack said will be a need to get together again.
The meeting opened with an address by Bishop Thompson who made remarks of encouragement telling the group that the diocese had many positive things going for it. He singled out the most important as an increasing number of faithful and an increasing number of ordained priests.
Jay LeVan, director of Planning and Synod Implementation, spoke about the concept of clusters and what benefits they offer explaining that clusters are an attempt to project trends, and growth in particular.
“We have the capability in this room to look 50 years in the future,” he said reasoning that many of the people had seen the past 50 years in the church. But he emphasized that the most important aspect of the cluster was that it got people talking.
Mack and co-facilitator Marian Mentavlos got their group talking through some planned activities. The cluster attendees divided into groups where individual parishes discussed how the ministries, organizations and efforts in their church were thriving and struggling and what new ones were needed.
When each group presented their results, the similarities were obvious. Many shared successes with ministries such as lectors, music, parish councils while some of the parallel struggles and needs were: social outreach, evangelization, interaction with other parishes, Eucharistic ministers, stewardship, elderly outreach and adult education.
“As we look at our strengths and struggles we are going to see a lot of patterns and that will help us better see how we can help one another,” Mentavlos concluded.
Council members then asked questions about how they could work together on projects to improve their ministries. Some, like Mariano La Via of the Cathedral parish, suggested accomplishing things by pooling their resources.
“It’s a small commitment and we have many people,” he said.
Questions arose such as how do they get people together and how do they advertise to get different churches to come. Mack asked that people start thinking of ideas for activities the cluster could sponsor to that end. The questions were just the beginning, however, said Mack.
“I think they will be more forward in reaching out to each other after this meeting,” she said. “I think it created an interest in people wanting to know what’s going on in other parishes. If they want to visit or attend a Mass at another church they will because they have received that invitation.”
Mentavlos said that there also seemed to be an understanding that there is a positive benefit to all the parishes in the cluster.
“We will be sharing strengths to help each other through struggles,” she said. “People now have a clearer concept of the cluster that has generated enthusiasm and planted a seed.”
The next step, according to Mentavlos, is to take the information of the needs they received from each of the parishes and put it into a graphic to make it more
“Then we will have to identify the next step,” she said. “I think there are tremendous possibilities.”