A Journey in Parish Planning
Lent is a season of penance. For those parishes in the archdiocese now preparing for mergers, there is sure no shortage of opportunities for sacrifice this Lent.
For one, there is the somber prospect of “letting go” of a parish that is home, that we’re used to, where our babies were christened and from when our folks were buried. This is the parish where we have come to Mass on Sundays, sent our kids to learn their faith, put in our envelope each week, and come to know a warm community.
To “give that up;” to see two parishes merge into a new one; in some cases, to see our parish buildings shuttered, is mortification, it is dying . . . it is Lent.
Two, there is special sacrifice for our priests. One, or both, of them may have to move from a parish he loves and start all over. They are the ones facing the sadness, confusion, and, in some cases, anger of their people. And, the parish priests are the ones now doing heavy lifting, meeting with their brother priest and his people at the – – come August 1st – – new parish to decide on staff, schedules, and common ministries. This is work, this is sacrifice, this is Lent.
Three, the worried staffs and leaders at the parishes are called to penance this Lent, as they have endless meetings, questions, and decisions. Think of schedules, location, and catechists for religious education programs; membership on parish councils, organizations, finance councils, and parish events and celebrations. It’s a cross, really. It’s Lent.
Four, a number of parishes are presently completing their proposals, to be presented this weekend to the advisory board of Making All Things New, and they had their own penance, in that the request given them last November 2 – – to mull over a proposal for ways of more intense cooperation with their neighboring parishes – – was unexpected. Their discussions have been emotional, and now their waiting for a resolution will be a time of mortification.
I realize I’m supposed to encourage you to penance during Lent. Now, because of Making All Things New, I worry I’m causing it! Sorry.
Bishop John O’Hara, Sister Eileen, and Eileen Mulcahy, the Reid Group, John Feerick, and his excellent team have worked very hard to be of service and encouragement, to lessen the penance. I thank them.
Gossip does not help; inaccurate stories do not help. A couple weeks ago, an article reported that the archdiocese was sinister and clandestine in its decisions, since it would not give out the decrees of mergers. The only requirement, of course, is that the decisions be publicized, as they all were, by a letter read at all the affected parishes, by publication in Catholic New York, and by releases in any newspaper that wanted to run the story (as did the newspaper that carried the story of “secretiveness.”) The decrees were available to anyone who wanted to come in to look at them (many did), and for awhile now have been on the website (something maybe we should have done, I admit, from November 2nd). The gossip is that the mean-old-archdiocese did this to deprive people of the right to appeal, which is malarkey.
The paradigm of Lent is the Exodus, the forty-year journey of the people of Israel from their old life in Egypt to their new life in the promised land. This exodus required a lot of sacrifice and trust, but was it ever worth it.
The chief temptation the Israelites confronted was to “go back to Egypt.” They questioned the wisdom of the trip; they wondered if their trust in the goal was realistic; they longed for the security and predictability of the “old way.”
We’re on a journey in parish planning. Our goal is strong, vibrant, solvent parishes. There may be fewer, but they’ll be even better.
The temptation is to “go back.” Why do we have to do this? Wasn’t it working okay before? Let’s first stick with the parishes we have.
We here remember the unanimous charge given us: we simply have too many parishes, in places from where the people have moved, and not enough priests and resources to keep them going. We are so burdened with maintaining churches that are less than half-full, with another parish six blocks away, that we no longer have the priests, money, or energy to do the mission mandated by Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now our beloved Pope Francis to “cast out to the deep” and re-energize our Church.
The process has been long, penitential, messy, less-than-perfect. A lot of complaints now come from those who did not bother to participate in that 15 month process. Eighty-five percent of the recommendations that were presented to me at the conclusion of the process were accepted.
And now the journey continues, as we persevere, confident in God’s grace, patient with our flaws, realistic in fighting the temptation to “go back to the way it was”, all of our praying for those hundred parishes now on the sacrificial path to mergers.