July 18, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Connected in the Spirit: Linked and partnered parishes

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinPastoral planning recognizes the need for the Church to adapt its structures to a changing world.

Factors, such as demographic shifts in Catholic populations, the concentrated density of parishes in a limited geographical area, a history of declining Mass attendance and sacramental activity, increasing economic challenges that threaten sustainability, a decrease in the clergy needed to staff parishes and a review of facilities, have influenced the pastoral plan for the four deaneries in the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

Today’s mission and the viability of the Catholic Church in the future requires that we reposition our structures and marshal our forces in a new way.

Change is never easy, but for those who are most immediately affected by the closing of a parish, the result can be a kind of death.

As I wrote last week, several years ago in Detroit my mother and family experienced the closing of the parish we grew up in. I know from personal experience the pain that can result, but I also know that hope and healing are fundamental to our experience as Christians. My prayer for the Church in central and southern Indiana is that we can support and help one another as we move through the difficult changes that are required of us by a changing world.

Last week, I wrote about “merged parishes.” This term describes a new configuration in which an existing parish is entirely joined to another. In these cases, the independent identity of one of the parishes will cease with the merger, and its members and assets will be incorporated into another. This is the most dramatic, and painful, change that we are being asked to make as an archdiocesan community, but the pastoral planning process we call Connected in the Spirit will ask every parish to adapt to the changing circumstances of our time and of the regions in which they are located.

“Linked parishes” are produced when two parishes share a single pastoral leader. Linked parishes cooperate in as many ways as possible, since the pastor or administrator is striving to serve two separate parishes. This kind of linking places special demands on priests, who are asked to assume the pastoral leadership of more than one parish at a time.

Like the Good Shepherd, pastors are called to “know their sheep,” to become familiar with the people and distinctive characteristics of the communities they serve. Every parish is unique, and a pastor who leads more than one parish must know, love and serve each of the parish communities assigned to his care.

All pastors need to take care that they avoid “burn out.” A healthy spirituality and prayer life, strong relationships with family and friends, and a consistent approach to taking time off for rest and relaxation are essential. Pastors who are responsible for more than one parish need to be even more attentive to their spiritual and physical well-being. We can help them by not making unrealistic demands, and by supporting their efforts to share responsibilities with parish staff and lay leaders.

Parishes in partnerships are created through the implementation of joint programs, the appropriate sharing of staff with a view to enhancing the quality of ministry as well as the practice of good stewardship of resources and the use of joint councils and commissions.

In approving these partnerships, I expect that each grouping will include in its joint planning some objectives that are common to all, such as the provision of lifelong formation in our faith, coordination of Mass schedules and support for local Catholic schools. I also hope that the partners will discover new ways to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life and begin new and creative programs of evangelization.

Besides objectives that are common to all the partnerships, each grouping has received specific recommendations from the Planning Commission that have been approved by me.

Connected in the Spirit urges all parishes in central and southern Indiana to share their resources for the sake of the mission of the Church, which has been entrusted to our care by the Lord himself through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amid the pain that is always associated with change, it is important to recognize the signs of new life already evident among us. I invite all Catholics to rejoice with me that this Easter the Lord called nearly 1,000 people to enter the Church through baptism or profession of faith.

Connected in the Spirit is not an effort to downsize a failing business. Rather, it is the search for the will of God that will lead us to even more faithful discipleship of our Risen Lord. †

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