For the parish community of St. Ann in Milton, the work of implementing the 2018 Diocesan Synod recommendations is reflected in a parish prayer written specifically for the 3-year process – The St. Ann Family Prayer.

The opening line reads, “Lord God it is you who seeks us. May we surrender and allow ourselves to be found.”

It is the “surrendering to God and our response” that will enable the parish to achieve its top three priorities – awaken, equip and empower, said Deacon Paul Garrow, head of the Parish Action Team formed following the synod.

The team of five, including pastor Father John Feltz, meets monthly to work on a plan to further awaken the faith of the congregation and the parish community; to equip parishioners to more fully live the faith by nourishing spiritual growth; and to empower everyone to live the faith boldly and outwardly.

Deacon Garrow explained that among the goals rising out of the priorities were to encourage parishioners to make greater use of retreats, like those offered by the Diocese of Burlington, and to develop new parish retreats. He explained that the use of retreats scored lower than average on the Catholic Leadership Institute parish survey at the conclusion of the synod. (The survey was one of several tools available to assess and improve parish vibrancy, undertake orientation and training sessions and provide assistance with action plans.)

“Priests are required to go on retreat, get out of the routine, recharge and have an encounter with Christ,” Deacon Garrow said. “We thought, ‘Why wouldn’t that be good for everybody?’”

Also part of the long-range plan is the initiation of several new spiritual development opportunities within the parish and a project to document and share 50 personal witness stories of parishioners. “People grow when they talk about and share who they are,” Deacon Garrow said.

Everything that is planned, he noted, “is a process which will continually empower the parish and make intentional disciples; to help parishioners become more confident in learning and sharing the faith and, hopefully, become catalysts in encouraging others to stretch as well.”

At this point in the process, the one tool that has helped to create the most awareness of the implementation process among the parishioners has been the Parish Family Prayer card, “which was definitely inspired by the Holy Spirit,” said Deacon Garrow, who noted that parishioner input was sought in naming the prayer, which is read at every Mass during the general intercessions.

“The prayer encourages us to be ever-vigilant and open to the Holy Spirit, to assess where we are at, and to ask, ‘Is there more God is asking of us?’” Deacon Garrow said.

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