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 | By Diocesan Synod Delegate and Outreach Action Team member Heather Gloster

The Priority of Outreach in the Pastoral Plan

Heather Gloster, Director of Cemeteries for the Diocese of San José, synod delegate and outreach team member, reflects.


Can you briefly summarize your expectations going into the pastoral planning process and how they may have been changed while collaborating on the pastoral plan?

I honestly did not know what to expect going into the process. Being chosen as a diocesan synod delegate was an honor, particularly representing the diocesan cemeteries as we came out of the pandemic. I felt charged to represent our Catholic departed and the health of our universal Church, especially at a time when so many people are hurting. During and after the synod process, I became very hopeful and optimistic about where the Church is moving and that the priorities in the pastoral plan are the right ones.

How has working on the pastoral plan been personally and spiritually transformative for you?

The pandemic was a very dark time, especially for those of us working in the death industry. For the better part of two years, we cared for families that were exposed to COVID-19 to help them plan their funerals and care for the deceased who had died of the illness while continuing to work near each other while most others were working remotely. The synodal process was not just a means to an end but a transformative journey. It was a path to rebuilding bridges within the community and within myself. Working on the pastoral plan brought me closer to members of the local Catholic community. Through this process, I felt a profound rekindling of my own heart as I witnessed the Holy Spirit at work in so many others, all committed to transforming our diocese, the Catholic Church, and even just humanity in general. Amid a dark and challenging time for the world, it was a powerful reminder that God's presence is constant and pervasive.

If you had to choose one or two words encapsulating your pastoral plan commissioner experience, what would those be and why?

Loved. I have been the Director of Cemeteries for the Diocese of San José for almost six years. I had previously worked with the Diocese of Oakland in the same role. The work as a commissioner was different. When I received the invitation to attend the synod weekend, I was honored. When I was further selected to join the Pastoral Planning Outreach Action Team, that was when I truly felt loved. It was a lot of hard work, many meetings, and discussions, but the love of God was there to sustain me.

What facet of the Outreach priority and action plan excites you most?

What excites me most is that we were all willing to think outside the box, be honest and vulnerable with each other, push each other forward, and think of ways to reach more people, try new things, and impact lives. The plan prioritizes the organizing of existing resources and making them more accessible for volunteers and parishes so that we can put help in the hands of people who are hurting the most. We also want to evangelize to our lost sheep more efficiently in a kind, caring, and loving way. When I say that real people will be saved, I mean that our plan was tangible and focused on getting resources and evangelization into the hands of those working on the ground so that more people will receive God's message.

Which aspect of the pastoral plan for Outreach do you feel is the most notable change we can look forward to?

Everyone on the Outreach action team was focused on organization, creating diocese-wide searchable databases for diocese volunteer opportunities and social services resources. Catholic Charities, for instance, offers services for mental health, housing, and food pantries. We wanted to make finding the resources available in the diocese more efficient. The other aspect is making sure to supply information to the parishes concisely and collaboratively so that no one feels they need to reinvent the wheel each time they want to offer outreach. This will make a significant impact on the diocese and our greater community.

Can you comment on the challenges we face as a diocese in implementing the action plan for Outreach?

We have people hurting who have left the Church for various reasons. We can't ignore those reasons; we need to be honest about them and meet people where they are to acknowledge that pain. Our plan faces the challenge of hiring and onboarding new positions, and with the finances coming out of the pandemic, we recognized that this wasn’t a small ask. As we move forward, we hope that investing in these positions will help us, as a diocese, spend focused time and energy on encountering people where they are: hopefully welcoming our non-practicing Catholics back to the Church, inviting non-Catholics to our churches, and listening and dialoguing with marginalized groups.

What inspired and guided you or your team as you discerned the plan? Or was there a Church teaching, a religious figure, or a world event you felt guided your discernment?

The impact of the war in Israel and Gaza had an impact on our prayerful reflection, particularly as we spoke of the effects of mental health, poverty, homelessness, and hunger on our community. I also frequently do the novena to Saint Dymphna (patron saint of mental illness) and continued to do that through this process as mental health needs were included in our plan.

How have you grown in your understanding of Outreach ministry, and how has that impacted your dedication to implementing this pastoral plan?

Through this process, I gained a deeper understanding of the resources we have diocese-wide and a dedication to ensuring these resources are well understood. I work for the diocese and did not know most of these existed, so I cannot imagine our parishioners or communities know them either. We have a real opportunity to help our communities, not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic, and my dedication to doing so has only grown through this process.

Heather Gloster has been the Director of Cemeteries for the Diocese of San José since 2018, having previously served in the same role for the Diocese of Oakland. Heather studied Philosophy, Religion, and business at San Francisco State University and Stanford University. She is a tragically obsessive baseball fan and her parish is Saint Robert in San Bruno.

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