You Can’t Quench the Spirit!
“We must trust that the Spirit is creating a transformed Catholicism, one that will be the Church of the future, even as we experience the dissolution of so many structures that we have come to rely on.” said Sr. Chris Schenk, introducing a FutureChurch panel devoted to preserving vibrant parishes at the November 4th Call To Action conference in Milwaukee. Schenk presented eight best practices for preserving vibrant parishes and encouraged over 80 activists to join a list serv to track parish closings and to use special resources from FutureChurch’s Save Our Parish Community project to keep parishes open.
It’s not a business...it’s the Church “I sold those people on this clustering process-I had to do something.” said Dan Thiel of Toledo’s United Parishes. Thiel was studying to be a deacon when the diocese asked him to work on the new diocesan clustering process. He agreed only after being assured that it did not mean closing parishes. For the next four years Thiel helped design a clustering plan in which parishes stayed open and supported each other with complementary programs. When the new bishop, Leonard Blair, decided to close parishes anyway, Thiel organized a meeting of 18 parishes to resist the closure: “I knew there was a problem when a diocesan official told me, ‘You don’t understand, this is a business,’ I said, ‘Oh my God . . . you don’t understand what Church is all about...’”
Boston Appeals Pending, Mass Attendance Down “One of the benefits of FutureChurch is everyone is learning how to do canon law appeals,” said FutureChurch member Stan Doherty who gave an update about the latest developments in Boston. Three years ago, Boston sought to suppress 83 parishes, but 18 resisted, and five parishes have been in vigil 24 hours a day to keep their parishes open. Eleven parishes have appeals pending at the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court where a decision is expected by next spring. Appeals from at least 10 other U.S. parishes are in the pipeline with many more projected in the future. The Archdiocese is actively selling sixty-five parishes valued at about 450 million dollars. Doherty distributed statistics showing a drop in Boston’s Mass attendance from 321,908 parishioners in 2004 the year parishes were closed to just 300,470 in 2006. The Boston Archdiocese recently announced a second downsizing will be necessary because of the shortage of priests.
Saving the Titanic? Fr. Gerry Bechard is a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit where he is one of the founders of Elephants in the Living Room, a group of 170 priests and about 700 lay people. Bechard reviewed various patterns of clustering noting how difficult it is to be a pastor to three separate parishes. “Ninety percent of contact with parishioners is before and after Mass. If you have to hurry off to another parish you lose that contact and it’s dehumanizing to the priest. You must have a strong pastoral presence or the community dies.” Bechard used the image of the Titanic to describe the state of the priest shortage. “Ships don’t sink at a consistent rate,” he said. “Don’t think that because things are going down slow, it’s ok.” Bechard said there are now 300 priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit but projections say there will be only 94 in 17 years, with some saying there will be just 90 priests remaining in the next ten years. “Speak up,” he said, “if the alarm had sounded just 30 seconds earlier, the Titanic would have survived.”