Friday, May 5, 2017

Would you leave your parish because of the priest?

Would you leave your parish because of the priest?
Parishioners and their priest must work together to create a vibrant parish community.

When I was growing up, my family belonged to a vibrant, close-knit parish community. It was a parish with a lot of history--my dad grew up there, and many other families had also been members for decades. My siblings and I were baptized there, made our first communions there, and dutifully attended Sunday school there week after week. 

The parish didn't just fill a spiritual need for my family. It filled a social need, too. My parents became good friends with other young families, and it wasn't uncommon for us to stay long after the closing hymn to socialize. That is, until, our parish was assigned a new priest. 
The priest began making large-scale changes--like eliminating one of the main worship spaces--without consulting the parishioners who cared so deeply about the parish. Finally, after one too many changes, my family and others began to leave, and the close-knit parish community was no more. 

Of the 410 U.S. Catholic readers who participated in our survey, 76 percent say they have had a similar experience. A new priest comes into their parish and unilaterally makes decisions that change the culture and community. Everyone has their own expectations for their parish. It can get tense when a priest's expectations don't align with those of the lay leadership and parishioners. That's certainly what happened in my family's church. When these misaligned expectations lead to concrete actions, that's when the parish community can change, for better or for worse. 

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