Dear Fr. Joe: My parish is changing now what?

This month’s column isn’t so much about one specific question as it is about a whole bunch of them that I’ve been getting.

All over the diocese, wherever I go, people are approaching me because they are worried about “all the changes coming.”  What I hope to do in this column is answer as many of those as I can.

First of all, what are we talking about?

Well, the diocese recently completed a study that looks at the needs of the diocese as a whole, the needs of the regions within the diocese, how many priests we have, how many deacons and lay workers, how many people attending Mass and a whole lot of other factors and came up with a plan.

This plan, undertaken with a lot of consultation and prayer, will help us maximize our time and talent and help us in our worship and in how we minister. Some parishes will close, some will merge; some will lose a priest, others will gain a priest. Some parishes will have a change in their status and all parishes will work toward improvement.

One common question is:

Q: I’ve heard some parishes called a “personal parish” and others called a “territorial parish;” what does that mean?

A: Well, there are, in our diocese, basically two kinds of parishes: personal and territorial. A territorial parish is just what it sounds like: it’s based on serving people within its immediate location. For example, the goal of the territorial parish in Otisville is to serve the people who live in Otisville (Go Xavier!).

A personal parish is a parish that ministers not within a geographical region, but to a specific group of people. Within the Lansing Diocese, Cristo Rey in Lansing is a good example. Cristo Rey is a personal parish where the primary mission is to minister to Spanish-speaking folks from all over the diocese.

In this new process we are undertaking, there may be some personal parishes that become territorial parishes; usually because the needs that created the personal parish do not exist anymore.

Q: How do I decide where to go to church?

A: This is the crux of a lot of the questions. In many places, folks have an opportunity to go to a personal parish or a territorial one, or sometimes, to choose between two territorial parishes ...

So, which do you do?

First of all, I think it important to keep in mind a simple idea: Our choice of which parish to worship at needs to be a choice made in integrity that leads to proper and life-giving action.

To me, choosing a church is entering into a covenant relationship. As a part of that relationship, you will (hopefully) see your priest serving with all his heart and mind; he won’t tell you to “find someone else” to do the funeral or to help when you are in need, he’ll do his absolute best to be present. Hopefully, you’ll see the lay ministers and staff working hard to serve as well. They often give up bigger and better pay to serve their parish community.

Your part in that relationship is to immerse yourself fully into the parish community. Come to Mass! Every Sunday, we need to see your smiling face! Lector, usher, cantor, giver of Oreos, whatever the need, step on up! The church also needs your financial support – BIG time. (Insert gasp here: Father asked for money!) You have so many gifts to offer a parish community and it all begins with your presence.

Once you enter into this relationship, we need the whole of you, just like you need the whole of the priest and staff there. I think it important to love your parish community like you love your family. I don’t know if this is taught anymore, and I think it needs to be, but if God calls you to a parish community, then there are obligations. I think it was my sister Laure who once told me, “I can’t love people in pieces.” We can’t love our parish that way either. Here are some examples of behavior that are damaging to our souls and to our parish community:

1. Registering at a parish and never showing up: Once your name hits the parish roster, a relationship begins and both parties need to be present. Don’t stand us up!

2. Accepting a lower tuition for a Catholic school at one parish while regularly attending another. That’s taking resources from two parishes.

3. Not volunteering time, talent and resources to help the parish be all it can be.

I know, I know, this all sounds so “strict,” but, remember, at the beginning of this process, you think it through so that you are entering into a relationship that is helpful and wholesome for you and yours.

I guess, in the end, it’s important to fight the temptation to only look at what we want and need and, instead, try to embrace the whole of the diocese. As the wise Spock from “Star Trek” said, “The needs of the many must always outweigh the needs of the one.” (As a side note, I am pretty sure he came up with that quote after a discussion he and I had about Double Stuf Oreo cookies, but I can’t prove it.) This advice is true: When looking at a parish, try not to focus exclusively on what you can “get,” but also on what you can give.

Whatever you decide, make sure and give the church the gift of you, because that’s one of the best gifts of all.

Enjoy another day in God’s presence!