Strategic Planning at 31st Street

Friars and lay staff identify three themes essential for shaping future of St. Francis of Assisi Church Features

The pastoral staff of St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street is working to develop a strategic plan to shape the future of the Midtown Manhattan ministry. Discussions and studies during much of 2009 have led to identification of three issues that will be evaluated and enhanced as the community’s strategic planning moves forward. Several specific projects for this church of three missions — parish, service church and urban ministry center — have evolved from the discussions. They are described here by Kevin Tortorelli, OFM.

NEW YORK — In the spring of 2009, the pastoral staff of St. Francis of Assisi Church here decided to engage the services of Peg Garvey-Mitchell to develop a strategic plan for the growth of the ministry at St. Francis. 

Jerome Massimino, OFM, guardian and pastor, contacted Peg who agreed to steer this process. She is a consultant who has served parishes and dioceses in a variety of roles. Peg began by interviewing each member of the pastoral staff, made up of friars and laypeople. She interviewed other friars as well including some in Provincial Administration. 

These hour-long interviews, which took place mainly in July and August, identified the themes of identity, information and relationships as essential for planning the church’s future. 

Facets of Church’s Identity
There was strong agreement that our identity is shaped by hospitality, liturgy, outreach, reconciliation and young adult ministry, which we do thoughtfully and well. Yet, there is a desire to do more along these lines and to do them better. In this connection, the terms service church, parish and urban ministry center require definition and clarification. Toward that end, we developed an organization chart to depict what currently constitutes the ministry at St. Francis — what belongs, what doesn’t, what may be missing. 

In addition, Peg suggested a series of dialogues or structured conversations initially with the friars and then with the friars and pastoral staff to clarify what St. Francis of Assisi has been and what it is called to be. 

We believe that planning benefits from accurate and timely information and that this area has internal and external implications as well. The internal issues involve e-mail communications, in-person communications and gaps in communication relative to staff responsibilities and schedules. Some external issues have to do with audience identification and outreach. 

These highlight the need for a comprehensive communications plan, accurate demographic data and understanding financial and development resources. We will be conducting an internal communications audit to determine present modes of communication and what may be needed regarding communications. This would include but not be limited to branding, staffing and all print and electronic publications. We saw clearly the need for a demographic tool to identify better the existing and the intended community. Also Peg asked us to explore the role the development office plays and to assess its integration into the whole community. 

The final theme to emerge from the interviews touched on relationships. In a Franciscan setting, these have to do with the Lord, the friars, the staff and all who come to us. 

Several observations emerged. There is a strong and shared sense that each member of the pastoral staff sees oneself as part of a very talented team. The pastor’s leadership is appreciated for his enthusiasm, talent and creativity. The team enjoys working collaboratively. Staff members welcome discussion about accountability, shared responsibility and decision-making.

Identifying Key Issues
Our first conclusion, the fruits of these initial efforts, has been to specify the three areas of identity, information and relationships as essential to planning for the future of St. Francis of Assisi Church. On this foundation we believe we can more surely and safely focus on expanding outreach, developing more lay ministries and giving greater energy and service to young adults. 

In late September, a House Chapter convened with small groups considering our identity. There was a shared sense that being grounded in community life supports our work; that the friars have been responsive to the needs of the people and on that basis have been willing to try new things; and that hearing confessions is a core service. There was a sense of the importance of continuity especially with regard to how we measure and evaluate the success of strategic planning. 

Stephen Mimnaugh, OFM, remarked on the very “contructive dialogue” that characterized these discussions. That House Chapter fashioned a description of parish, urban ministry center and service church. 

A parish is characterized by families, family services and neighborhoods. Its ministry is sacramental and canonical. People have a sense of belonging to a faith community as opposed to being anonymous persons. The Urban Ministry Center is a model of reaching out especially to the poor and alienated by virtue of creative ministries. It is a model of availability, diversity, often operating in terms of an alternative theology. Within this framework the sacraments are celebrated. Finally, the Service Church model was characterized as ‘getting in and getting out.’ Here people come to us. Availability is usually found together with mutual anonymity. Variety is on offer in terms of prayer, devotions and services such as education and counseling.

Proposals for Developing Themes
In the next phase of this strategic planning, the pastoral staff produced concrete proposals regarding the themes ofidentity, information and relationships. We look set to engage a professional parish survey to strengthen our sense of the identity of St Francis of Assisi Church. Initially we have developed 14 questions, which we believe will yield helpful information. To strengthen information cooperation we are moving ahead on information technology issues, standardizing communications, interrelating computers, a new bulletin content and format. 

Finally, we are looking to strengthen relationships among friars, lay staff and employees with our focus on the spiritual life, sharing time together, more careful long-term planning and occasions for social interaction. We are now at the point of implementing these initial concrete proposals.

Strategic planning has generated much shared enthusiasm. Comparing St. Francis of Assisi to a “machine,” Meredith Augustin, director of music, noted that strategic planning was helping us “oil” some of the parts and to scrape the rust from others. 

Tony LoGalbo, OFM, spoke for many when he observed how happy he is “with what we have done so far” and with the hope that what we have begun will bear fruit for our lives and ministry. Similarly Ed Trochimczuk, director of volunteer ministry, sees strategic planning as helping us shape direction and achieve specific objectives to become an even more dynamic church in the middle of New York City. “St. Francis of Assisi is growing,” he notes, “and becoming a church of choice for many … who seek good preaching, uplifting music and a warm welcome.” 

John Felice, OFM, noted that strategic planning attempts to “better understand where we are as a ministry at this time in our history and where we think the ministry is headed.” We hope “to craft an appropriate response to the needs of the people who come to St. Francis. We have a unique role to play in the life of the Church in New York City.

“Our service can be critical to the revitalization of the Church giving hope … to those who come to us in search of a place to pray.” 

— Fr. Kevin is director of adult education at St. Francis of Assisi Church where he has lived and ministered since 1996.