SCRANTON – A Greek philosopher once said that change is the only constant in life. As local communities, schools and businesses are all forced to change, the Diocese of Scranton must adapt as well.
In 2019, well before the approaching COVID-19 pandemic, the Diocese of Scranton began a long-range pastoral planning process with clergy and parish leaders. The Vision 2030 Blueprint Process aims to look proactively at the realities of our local church in the present moment, while striving to meet the opportunities and challenges of the coming decade.
The goal of Vision 2030 is to create vibrant parish communities rooted in the life of Jesus Christ.
“As we strive to be a mission-driven church, we must all work together in a way that we best live out our baptismal calling in both a world – and local environment – that continues to change,” Bishop Joseph C. Bambera said. “Our Church faces significant challenges, among which are a fewer number of parishioners, financial sustainability questions, facility infrastructure needs and a diminishing number of ordained priests.”
A 12-page document entitled ‘Vision 2030’ was released in January in all parishes of the Diocese of Scranton. The document provides information on real and significant factors – known as priority drivers – which the Diocese of Scranton and its parishes must confront. The priority drivers will prompt the need for change in the coming years.
Among the most significant priority drivers is a declining number of parishioners supporting the mission of the Church. More than four decades ago, the Diocese of Scranton had well over 300,000 practicing Catholics. Due to numerous factors, including an aging population, young people leaving the area for employment and reaction to the sex abuse crisis in the church, Diocesan statistics show there are now only 224,075 registered in parishes.
Likewise, a diminishing number of clergy is another significant priority driver. In 2003, the Diocese of Scranton had 226 active priests. In 2021, that number had dropped below 100 priests. Because of retirements, the Diocese projects that there will only be 81 priests in 2025 and 62 priests by 2030 without a significant increase in vocations to the priesthood.
In recognition of all the Church of Scranton faces, the Diocese has been working with Pastors and Parish Pastoral and Finance Council members in several communities to establish new parish linkages to confront the changing times. There are various reasons why a linkage may be established – from the retirement of a pastor, to demographic, financial or infrastructure reasons, or even the overall needs of the diocese in regards to where clergy are most needed.
Announcements regarding new linkages planned for 2022 have been communicated to parish communities in the last several weeks. The announcement of a new linkage is just the very first step in a process that will involve the engagement of the laity. Whenever a linkage is established, there are many questions that will need to be examined and choices that will need to be made – and that is where the involvement of each church’s parishioners will be relied upon.
Among the parish modifications recently announced are:
• Corpus Christi Parish, West Pittston, will enter into a linkage with Saint Barbara Parish, Exeter, in May 2022. This linkage will have a single pastor and will become effective upon the planned retirement of Father Michael E. Finn, Pastor of Saint Barbara Parish.
• Saint Mary of the Lake Parish, Lake Winola, will join the current linkage of Our Lady of the Abingtons Parish, Dalton, and Saint Patrick Parish, Nicholson, in August 2022. All three parishes will share one pastor.
• Saints Peter and Paul Parish, Towanda, will enter into a linkage with Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Wyalusing, in August 2022. This linkage will have a single pastor.
• Saint Joachim Church, which is currently a worship site of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Wyalusing, will become a worship site of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Tunkhannock, in August 2022.
• All Saints Parish, Plymouth, will enter into a linkage with Saint John the Baptist Parish, Larksville, in August 2022. This linkage will have a single pastor.
• The Pastoral and Finance Councils of Saint Andre Bessette Parish, Wilkes-Barre, have begun participation in a consultative process to determine the best path forward given changing demographics in its community which have resulted in decreased Mass attendance and Sacramental participation, as well as a large debt which has been transparently shared with the faithful each week in the parish bulletin.
Whenever the need for a new linkage occurs, the Diocese makes available professionals in pastoral formation, financial planning, engineering and communication to help the new linkage in any way that is necessary.
As the Diocese of Scranton continues to confront changing realities, the bishop told each of the parish communities that will be involved in a new linkage, “While I know change is never easy, be assured of my deep gratitude for all that you and your families have shared, and continue to share, in furthering the mission of the Church. As you know, our mission is to take Christ into the world. I am confident that by working together we can ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.’”
For more information on Vision 2030, visit dioceseofscranton.org.