QUESTION: Now that we pretty much know where we are starting from with this On Mission project, what is expected of the average parishioner?
ANSWER: The grouping of parishes and the ordained clergy assigned to them have been announced. The realistic expectation is that we will all have feelings about what we have heard. They will likely vary, but our chief responsibility lies in what we do with those feelings. Anger and negativity may be tempting, but we all know that neither are helpful. It seems to me that what will be most helpful are: perspective, patience and prayer.
When changes occur, most of us have an instinctive reaction centered on “What does this mean for me?” That is understandable. But what is helpful is to try to expand the personal perspective and ask what it means for others.
The announcements will likely mean changes in parish leadership, liturgy schedules, ministries and activities. These are not small matters. But are they necessarily negative? Change involves things usually out of our control, but also involves potential and new opportunities, and taking advantage of these elements is in our control. One question we might all ask is how we and our families are going to grow in faith during the coming months and years? That is the challenging perspective.
Another perspective might mean asking what does this mean for the diocesan bishop? Clearly, we all are aware that there are fewer priests and they are aging, and that fewer priests are being ordained than are retiring. People are moving from some areas to others, and our culture does not seem to place an emphasis on the life of faith. In view of all that, there seems to be widespread agreement that something has to be done. There are as many ideas of how that should happen as there are Catholics in the diocese.
But the ultimate responsibility to provide the sacraments and pastoral care rests with the bishop, so the authority to arrange all that rests with him as well. I don’t think many of us would want to trade places with him at this time. These days will be challenging for him, too. If our perspective includes more than our own view, can we try to see things as the bishop does and pray for him?
An additional perspective is that of the priests and deacons. Almost all priests and deacons will experience some change in their ministries as On Mission unfolds. Some will be given new responsibilities in addition to those they now have. Some will be leaving parishes where they have served for a long time. In each case, the clergy will be adjusting to change at the same time as the parishioners. How important it will be for the clergy and people to try to see change from the perspective of the other.
Another perspective involves those who serve our parishes in their jobs and ministries. This will be a challenging time for them as well. Change will touch all elements of parish life. When you see them, can you share your appreciation for their dedication and hard work?
In addition to wider perspectives, this venture is going to require patience. Relationships take time to build, trust is earned, talents are discerned and fine-tuned. Priests and deacons need to know that people will be patient with them, and priests and deacons need to know that their patience with parishioners and staff members is essential. All of us, clergy and laypeople, will be doing our best to adjust to changes we could never have envisioned even a short time ago.
Finally, our life of prayer together is an essential component as we move forward. Only in view of our relationship with Christ will we be able to see the power of the Gospel we are called to proclaim.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.