The Pastoral Way Forward in the Archdiocese of Cologne is a departure on many levels. The baptized and confirmed have moved more into the center. Where does the path lead to? A guest article by Dr. Werner Kleine, head of the "Communication, Dialogue, Publicity" department.
The future is always. You don't catch up with them. Can there be a goal when one sets out for the future? Don't all the future processes that so readily signal new beginnings and confidence in society and the church suffer from this?? And: Has the future not already overtaken itself by the time these processes have come to a conclusion?
In the archdiocese of Cologne, too, we can sing a song about it. The pastoral discussion in the mid-1990s or the project "Future Today" at the beginning of the 2000s were carried out by many with great commitment; in the end, however, the course of time had long since overtaken the planners of the future. The aim was always to meet the changing challenges of the time, which were usually even greater at the end of the process than at the beginning. Mostly it was about necessary savings, which made a concentration of forces necessary. To avoid the word "consolidation," people then liked to talk about synergy effects, which in the Roman Catholic Church, of course, always involve the priesthood as well.
Concentration on Eucharistic celebrations
Because the celebration of the Eucharist is the source, center and climax of the entire Christian life, a decrease in the number of available priests always means a necessary concentration of Eucharistic celebrations. Some congregations lost their spiritual home over the years, because they no longer met every Sunday for Holy Mass in the church that they themselves or their parents had helped to build after the war, where they had been baptized, made their First Communion or gotten married. Now one should go to the neighboring village or parish.
Here and there, new homes have emerged over the years. Safe. Often enough, however, the feeling of strangeness remains, because one's own church is still in the village, but remains closed on Sundays. And now the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, is praising the Pastoral Way Forward. Isn't this another one of those stories that only leads to larger structures and further ways? Isn't it just another case of making savings under the guise of a spiritual awakening?? Don't the experiences of the past processes teach us that Cologne already has everything in its drawers??
Dignity and charisms of the baptized and confirmed
I must say that I can understand this skepticism all too well. I even shared them when I heard about the first plans. In the Lenten pastoral letter of 2016, which initiated the Pastoral Way Forward, there was much talk about the baptized and confirmed, their dignity and charisms, which needed to be discovered despite the diversity of ministries and roles. This is true and actually not new, as St. Thomas Aquinas says in the 13th century. The Archdiocese of Cologne, in its eighteenth-century teaching, claimed that those confirmed had the authority "to proclaim publicly the faith in Christ as if by virtue of their office". In practice, however, they have been treated for centuries more like sheep who had to obediently follow the shepherd.
The fact that the baptized and confirmed are now more in the spotlight is a clear indication that the challenges have changed once again. In fact, the numbers, data and facts are incorruptible. Looking ahead to the year 2030, it is already clear that the number of pastoral ministries in the Archdiocese of Cologne – consecrated and non-consecrated – will be cut in half.
Nor do the forecasts paint a friendly picture of the development of the number of church members, which is also expected to halve – but only by the year 2060. In addition to the general demographic development, this also has to do with declining baptismal numbers and increasing numbers of people leaving the church. However, this is also accompanied by the fact that a decline in church tax revenues is to be expected. The Archdiocese of Cologne must react to these developments. The Pastoral Way Forward is the answer to these challenges.
Well attended regional forums
One can indeed argue about the name "Pastoral Way of the Future", since the future per se is not attainable. Nevertheless, there is something different about the previous future processes. In September 2018, a new stage of the Pastoral Way Forward, the current one, began with the establishment of five fields of work. The five areas of work, with broad participation from the archdiocese, deal with the topics of "(Spiritual) cultural change, trust work", "Church (in all its breadth) on the ground", "Communication, dialogue, publicity", "Training and competence expansion" and "Efficiency and sustainability". After initial analyses of the respective thematic areas, members of the working fields went into the depths of the archdiocese, attended numerous recollectiones (i.e., regional meetings of pastoral workers), conferences of parish secretaries or. Sextons, or parish councils.
Expert interviews were conducted and online surveys were organized, with over 7.000 people took part. The results of all these events were incorporated into an outline of objectives, which were presented to a broad public in September/October 2019 at three regional forums in Cologne, Euskirchen and Dusseldorf, where they were discussed. About 1.500 people participated in the regional forums. Each piece of feedback was recorded and fed into further deliberations. The importance that Archbishop Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki attaches to each individual opinion is shown by the anecdote when, during a round of questions, he interrupted the moderator, who was calling for a lunch break, and stated that he wanted to hear every word first.
After the regional forums, the current stage in the Pastoral Way Forward has entered a new phase. Feedback from the regional forums will be incorporated into the outline of objectives. In focus teams consisting of members of the fields of work and the specialist departments of the Archdiocesan Vicariate General, concepts are developed on this basis, for example, for the strategy of public relations, digitalization, the culture of welcome or the future structures of parishes and communities. The latter is certainly what interests many parishioners the most. Will it be all about centralization again?
Centralization of administration indispensable
The numbers, data and facts are incorruptible. They show that something must change again if people are to be led to Christ and the church is to grow today as well. At the same time, the experiences of the last future processes show that centralization alone cannot be a sustainable solution. So a fundamental rethinking and a spiritual cultural change is needed on all levels – not only on the side of the archbishop and the vicariate general, but also among the pastoral services and the parishes themselves. It is already becoming apparent that the terms "parish" and "community" need to be rethought. Centralization of administration seems indispensable in view of the figures, data and facts. At the same time, pastoral ministry must be thought of in a more decentralized way than before.
Therefore, in the future there will probably be larger administrative units, called "parishes. Below the "parish", however, there will (have to) be many "congregations" through which the church stays "close to home. It is clear that with declining numbers of full-time pastoral ministries, new models of leadership will be needed. Therefore, a concept is being worked on for the introduction of "teams of responsible persons" who, on a voluntary basis and with competence, would take over the management of the communities "close to home. So speaking of the dignity of the baptized and confirmed is not a business game. It is part of a fundamental cultural change that sees full-time pastoral ministries as enablers who accompany and empower teams of leaders to publicly proclaim faith in Christ according to their abilities, as if ex officio.
It is important to Archbishop Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki that the Eucharist continues to be the source, center and high point of the whole Christian life. It must be reliably celebrated in central places. There are certainly still open questions here about what this means for the assemblies of the new "parishes". But here, too, ideas are already emerging that strengthen the importance of the Eucharist, but still take seriously the living conditions of the people.
No prohibitions to think
At any rate, one thing I can say after almost one and a half years as the head of Field 3 "Communication, Dialog, Publicity" is that everything is discussed openly. There are no prohibitions on thinking and no ready-made plans in the drawers of the Vicariate General. It is an open and complex process. The Pastoral Way Forward is indeed a departure on many levels.
It will come close to the parishes in the spring of 2020, when in local conferences (in pastoral areas or mission spaces) the increasingly clear sketch of goals will be further sharpened together, so that in the summer a goal picture will emerge of which one can truly say that it has emerged from the entire breadth of the archdiocese.
One thing is certain: the future is always. After 2030 there will again be a future process. Now – here and now – it is up to us to plan for the near future in such a way that even in the distant future the Church continues to grow because people find their way to Jesus.
Author: Dr. Werner Kleine is head of the field of work 3 "Communication, Dialogue, Public" of the Pastoral Way Forward in the Archdiocese of Cologne. He is a consultant for city pastoral ministry in the Catholic City Church of Wuppertal (city pastoral ministry, missionary pastoral ministry, pastoral ministry for passers-by, pastoral ministry for distant people)