+ Feast of Blessed Junipero Serra
I was actually dreading the meetings of yesterday and today…
Attending these all-day sessions were the priest council members, the vicars, and the working group for Making All Things New, our strategic pastoral planning process. The only steps left after this would be, as required by Church law, the views of the College of Consultors, and then my decision. So, these were very important gatherings.
Over a year of consultation, meetings, conversations, criticism, and intense process, involving all our parishes, had preceded these two days.
The agenda for the ten hours of meetings was a vote of approval, or disapproval, of the list of recommendations from the cluster groups and the advisory committee about the future of our 365 parishes.
Why was I dreading these sessions? For one, this was the first time I ever saw “the list” of recommendations about which parishes should close, merge, or cooperate more closely. Of course, the cynics claim I’ve had “the list” of parishes I wanted to close for over a year, and that all this exhaustive “process” was a sham. All I can do is assure you again that the first time I ever saw “the list” of parishes proposed for closure or merging was yesterday morning.
The second and more ominous reason I had heartburn anticipating these meetings was fear of fierce controversy. I could envision arguing, lobbying, and protests.
I should have listened to Jesus tell me, “Fear is useless…what is needed is trust!” The gathering was uplifting, uniting, and enlightening.
I left with some clear observations:
For one, the process has worked! The data gathered was most comprehensive, the pastoral needs of God’s People was convincingly presented, and the participants in the meeting were seen frequently to be nodding in assent as the recommendations were reviewed.
Two, the priests on the council, and the vicars, were wonderfully invested in the conversation, asking insightful questions about where the people would go if their parishwere closed, or if a merging were logical and do-able. In a few cases, the recommendations of the clusters and the advisory committee about parish mergers were not accepted. However, 90% of them made eminent sense, and got the council’s support.
Third, the reasons given for approving (or, on occasions, turning down) a recommendation were all pastoral: conserve and better-use our priests; utilize the churches and parish properties that are better maintained and in much better shape; sensitivity to our elders, and our poorer people who depend on walking or public transportation to get to Sunday Mass and parish activities; changing demographics of parishes, with either the flight or influx of Catholic people into the area; and, in many cases, special considerations for unique groups. For instance, one parish suggested to close was also serving the deaf community, another welcoming people who desire the Latin Mass, another the Vietnamese Catholics, all of whom, while not living within the parish neighborhood, were still in need of pastoral care and a spiritual home. The priests wanted to make sure they were not forgotten.
After the meeting; I did not even need the Alka Seltzer I had brought along!
Now, to decide, and I must do so by the end of September.
At that time, I’ll show you the entire list of recommendations, and, more importantly, will let you know of my decisions.
All I know is that I am very grateful to Bishop-elect John O’Hara, the clusters, advisory committee, and staff.
All I know is that the process is working.
All I know is that it’s going to be neuralgic to see some parishes close. But, as we’ve often all observed, while the closing of a parish is always painful, it’s less painful if there has been extensive, patient, consultation. And these last two days assured me that’s the case.
Stay tuned…please pray!