William A. CLARKE and Daniel GAST, editors. Collaborative Parish Leadership: Contexts, Models, Theology. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017. pp. 220. $90.00 hardcover ISBN 978-1-4985-3368-3; $85.50 e-book ISBN 978-1-4985-3369-0. Reviewed by Richard SHIELDS, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON M5S 1J4


Demographics have a huge impact on Catholic parishes in the United States. The traditional configuration of parish, school, convent and rectory once reflected urban neighborhoods or rural communities. Maintaining these familiar models of parish life and activity has become an insurmountable burden in many places and dioceses across the country are facing decisions to close down, amalgamate, or cluster what once were self-sustaining churches.

The impact on parishioners can be challenging to the faith, their Catholic identify, and their commitment to the new entities. Some experience a sense of dislocation. Often parishioners from parishes that once served European immigrants feel alienated by abrupt re- configurations that bring them together with newer immigrants of Latino, Asian, or African languages, customs and devotions.

Managing change and building genuine faith communities out of diverse groupings, with dissimilar narratives and expectations, brings conflict and disappointment. Moving toward harmony and hope is a task that many parishes and pastors cannot achieve without some kind of coaching and assistance. Initiated in 2004 as a joint undertaking of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Loyola University, Project INSPIRE (Identify, Nurture and Sustain Pastoral Imagination through Resources for Excellence) offered a blend of theologically relevant and organizationally astute consultants to build collaborative leadership in parishes in transition.

Collaborative Parish Leadership presents a chronicle of and reflection on the journey of several parishes as they navigate the sometimes choppy waters of change. Edited by Daniel Gast (INSPIRE’s director) and William A. Clarke (INSPIRE’s research professor from 2011 to its close in 2013) the book contains ten studies and essays by various practical theologians. Working from different perspectives and methodologies, these essays take the reader through the process as lived and offer explanations for the successes and failures that occurred during INSPIRE’s nine year tenure. Two essays on pastoral leadership in France and in Germany open this study to a larger context, allowing for a more nuanced theological reflection.

Good leadership is essential in any faith community. Parishes in transitions are not only those that are being clustered or amalgamated; all Catholic parishes are facing challenges in their demographics, the style of leadership, and (in many cases) stretched financial and human resources. The stories told here, the analyses offered are neither authoritative nor normative.  They provide a concrete starting point for readers who are concerned about current models and habits of leadership in the Church. The theological reflections help situate the individual cases discussed within the universal mission of the Church in the world. No one size fits all. You will find no quick fix solutions or a tool box for change in Collaborative parish Leadership. You will find a step ladder that you can use to see beyond the immediate, that will provide both information and insight for framing your own questions and working toward your own solutions.