“A vibrant parish, as must a Pilgrim Church, is continually expanding, evaluating and adjusting what needs to be done to carry out our pastoral mission,” reflected Joseph Gainza of St. Augustine Parish in Montpelier.

This process of growth reflects the integration of three key pastoral priorities identified by the 2018 Diocesan Synod, said Gainza, who served as parish delegate to the synod. He is also producer and host of Gathering Peace, a radio show that informs listeners about issues related to justice and peace.

The priorities, Gainza pointed out, are each related to the mission of the Church: Evangelization, which calls people to faith; building and supporting vibrant parishes, which gives them a place where faith lives; and communications, which proclaim a message that can be heard, received and understood.

St. Augustine Parish, under the direction of Father Julian Asucan, pastor, set out immediately to implement these priorities, Gainza said. “While there is still much to do, great progress has been made.”

“Clearly, the three priorities are interwoven and work on one often advances work on the other two,” he said, noting, “St. Augustine Parish is focusing primarily on evangelization and vibrant parishes while giving attention to how we communicate with one another and the larger community as we do so.”

A planning team has been meeting since the completion of the synod to write a 3-year plan for the parish. Each of the committees and groups within the parish were invited to submit their own plans for the next three years. The team also has surveyed families and individuals who have not been active or attending Mass. “We are still receiving completed surveys and evaluating the responses,” Gainza said.

An Evangelization Committee was established combining elements of both catechesis and evangelization. “While committee members share our respective faith journeys, we also organize events for both parishioners and the wider community of central Vermont,” said Gainza, head of the committee.

These have included presentations on Catholic Social Teaching, Catholic devotions and Black Elk and Lakota Indian Catholicism. The committee organized a concert that raised money for Annunciation House that works along the U.S./Mexico border providing services for immigrants entering this country.

A Christmas community carol-sing was organized, while young parishioners plan to participate in the annual All Species Day parade and celebration – a good opportunity to learn about the teachings of the Church on the environment, especially in Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’.”

Gainza considers the synod recommendations as being implemented by building upon what already exists, noting that the parish is a member of a network of area churches providing a warming shelter for the homeless once a week and is a member of Asylum Seekers Assistance Network, which is sponsoring a Latin American family seeking asylum in the United States while their application is processed.

All this activity, and more, is carried out primarily by the laity, stressed Gainza. “We believe that an essential feature of a vibrant parish is high levels of lay involvement. This fits perfectly with one of the recommendations of the Diocesan Synod: ‘Investigate new forms of lay and diaconal parish leadership, helping to free priests to focus more on pastoral ministry and less on administration and facilitating greater lay participation in the spiritual and pastoral works of the parish.’”

—Originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.