A Closer Look at St. Joseph’s Pastoral Support Team

In the heart of St. Joseph Parish in Aston, Msgr. Bransfield and his newly established Pastoral Support Team are re-cultivating what it means to foster community, one connection at a time.

In 2022, St. Joseph parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia administered Catholic Leadership Institute’s Disciple Maker Index (DMI) survey, a tool designed to assess the spiritual growth and engagement of people in the pews. The survey results revealed an initial foundation of faith among the community, with belief in the Eucharist, a belief that Scripture is the word of God, and an understanding of the Church’s key role in a person’s relationship with God. Coming out of the pandemic, the parish demonstrated incremental growth in Mass attendance, personal prayer, and communal prayer.

The survey essentially highlighted opportunities for growth, particularly around building confidence in conversations on Church teaching, enhancing parishioners' understanding of their role as disciples, and fostering spiritual growth from the Mass experience. Msgr. Bransfield shared that "The DMI gave us an initial sense of what's going on in the parish and, combined with the long-standing experience of our parish ministry coordinators and volunteers, a sense of direction as to where we need to accent our efforts."

The Formation of the Pastoral Support Team

Recognizing the need to extend faith beyond individual practice, St. Joseph Parish took proactive steps to engage and involve parishioners. The creation of the Pastoral Support Team, consisting of 12 dedicated members, marked a significant turning point. These individuals, holding various roles within the parish, took on the responsibility of connecting with others and identifying potential leaders within the community. They are advocates for a vibrant, engaged community of faith.

The Pastoral Support Team meets monthly and holds each other accountable in their planning and motivation. Msgr. Bransfield founded the Pastoral Support Team as “doers to find doers.” He said, “They exist between creating and action, by finding others who can act.” When selecting the members of the team, Msgr. Bransfield asked, “Does this person have a capacity to be in ministry with others – to naturally connect with others in and through Christ? So many of our parishioners have this capacity, and they demonstrate it every day in countless ways. The key was to invite some parishioners to come together in a particular, concentrated, longer-term, team-approach focus of support and invite others along the way.”

The Impact of the Team

Christine, a key member of the team, sums up their mission: "Our role is to invite people wherever they are in their faith journey – the Holy Spirit does the rest. We're not here to rush the process."

Angela, another vital team member added that practicality is an approach to their mission, "We focus on one action at a time." Their unique role extends beyond delegating tasks; it’s about making a home for others and empowering them to take a place in the community so that everyone shares in providing for the future. The team isn't just about generating ideas; it's a "think tank," as Angela puts it: "We try things that don't work. And that's okay! We're here to pivot as needed."

The team's impact goes beyond delegation; it's about empowering leaders within the parish. While the individual and unique skills of each member of the team is valuable to the process, Msgr. Bransfield stressed the importance of having one shared united point of connection from all members: "We need leaders who, even with their differing gifts, can naturally generate a connection with others that begins with and leads to Jesus … and flows through Him back into the community and calls people forth. Again, many of our parishioners do this already and have done it for years for the parish."

Signs of growth are everywhere:

  • The annual Christmas bazaar, led by a dedicated leadership team and existing group of volunteers, reached what seemed to be an all-time high in attendance.
  • Adoration hours are now expanded from one day to four, and ministries are gathering regularly to pray and adore God together.
  • The coordinators of the various ministries across the parish now meet in a coordinated way at least twice a year to build connection.
  • Msgr. Bransfield meets with every family when they first join the parish, getting to know more about them and making note of ways they might best find involvement and spiritual enrichment within the community.

Planning for the Future

Pastoral Support Team member, Gina, discussed how the DMI results helped shape their parish vision, mission, and priorities for the future. "CLI helped us establish priorities and sub-goals. Our three priorities are: equipping people in the faith journey, growing in intimacy with Jesus Christ, and development of community relationships."

Msgr. Bransfield keeps an eye on the future: "We need to make sure we can hand this off to the next generation."

St. Joseph's isn't just a church; it's a vibrant community where faith thrives and leaders emerge, one invitation at a time, offering a place of belonging to each person in the pew. The collaboration between Msgr. Bransfield, the Pastoral Support Team, and Catholic Leadership Institute demonstrates the power of cultivating intentional leadership within parishes, benefiting the entire community and each parishioner on their faith journey.

by Mike School

January 10, 2024

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