Diocese of Sacramento: On-going and Authentic Dialogue

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The final Inventory Report to the Diocese of Sacramento is complete and has been sent to the diocesan leadership. We first sent a draft for their feedback; they reviewed the document and noted a few adjustments to make the report reflect their reality better. It was a kind of dialogue that acknowledged that while we collected a lot of information by various external means, there was still a great deal of information residing within them and their experience of the diocese. It also represented our conviction that any process of analyzing a reality must be carried out in authentic dialogue with those who live that reality on a daily basis. No one of us holds the truth, but together we might come closer to it.

 

We learned a lot from working with the Diocese of Sacramento.  It does not take a lot to recognize that the leaders of the church there are dealing with two very distinct realities that can be simplistically summarized as an urban church and a rural church. Of course, it is much more complex than that. Still, staying with this “simpler” view of the diocese, there is more here than meets the eye. No one would deny that the rural church is very different from the urban church. The parishioners are fewer in number, the distances between churches, and sometimes between parishioners, is significantly increased, the attention of parishioners is less diffused and so on. Yet, these quantitative distinctions do not get at the deeper reality between the two kinds of churches under the Sacramento Diocese umbrella. There are qualitative differences as well. If the quantitative differences were all that one had to be concerned with, then it would just be a matter of packaging the same programs offered in the city in a smaller package–downsizing–to fit the smaller numbers in the rural areas. Such an approach is not only ineffective, but is also experienced as an affront to those in the rural areas. They recognize repackaging immediately and they sense the lack of fit from the start.

 

Some distinctive characteristics of rural churches that set them apart from urban churches include their means for assessing success (survival is valued more than growth); mode of planning for the future (much more in touch with limitations and lack of control); attitude toward finances (more accustomed to non-liquid assets); sense of time (availability is often determined by things they can’t control); and so on. These and other differences translate into behavior at church that means that successful programs planned with the urban church in mind won’t necessarily find the same success in the rural church if their foundational assumptions are not rethought from the rural perspective. Forming and supporting lay ministers, therefore, in the northern part of the Diocese of Sacramento, will require a qualitatively different approach than that used in the Sacramento metroplex.

 

And these are just the beginning of the complexities to be considered because the church of Sacramento, whether urban or rural is culturally diverse as well as regionally diverse. And within that cultural diversity there is further regional diversity. Therefore, lay ministry formation for Hispanic lay leaders in the city of Sacramento will be one thing. It will be another experience in the small cities of the north. It is yet another matter for the migrant farmworkers.

 

We were further blessed by conversations during our on-site visit that revealed to us a vibrant church, many of whose members seek to be united with their pastors in carrying on the evangelizing mission of Christ among their peers and colleagues–youth and young adult ministry leaders, business and professional people, members of various ethnic groups represented in the diocese. Sometimes they sounded notes of dissonance among themselves as they approach their understanding of their call sometimes with very different views of the church. Yet, they are united in their longing to be more closely connected with their pastors in a way that offers them the needed autonomy to respond to the particular situations they feel called to address. What a great gift these voices are to the church of Sacramento!

 

We join with the leaders there in their enthusiasm for seeking ways to serve the wonderfully diverse peoples of the Sacramento Diocese with the limited resources they have.  We will find a way to assist them to discover a common voice for speaking in the name of the church, and to nurture their effective response to the call each has received to be collaborators who are co-responsible for the being and action of the church in Sacramento.

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