By Barb Arland-Fye
Greater collaboration between parishes is essential to ensuring that all Catholics are able to celebrate the Eucharist each weekend. That’s the message the Diocesan Planning Commission shared with more than 1,000 people from parishes throughout the Davenport Diocese during meetings held Sept. 19-Oct. 3. The meetings were designed to provide parish leaders and pastors with a broader view of what is happening in the Catholic Church and to begin preparing for a successful future. One-third fewer priests are expected to be available for parish ministry 10 years from now in the diocese.
“We’re not trying to determine which parishes will close. Some might merge, some might consolidate,” Bishop Martin Amos said during a planning meeting Oct. 3 at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. The Church he grew up in is not the same Church he was ordained in or the same Church in which he serves today, he said. “Change doesn’t stop, it’s lifelong.”
The bishop said he is encouraged by the energy he felt from participants in the seven meetings. He especially appreciated the message which Father Paul Connolly, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, shared during the Oct. 3 planning meeting there: Faith begins at home, in the family.
Fr. Connolly said he was responding to questions raised by Catholics wondering why the Church can’t allow married men, and women, to serve as priests. Fr. Connolly pointed out that even if such ordinations were permissible, it would be a temporary solution. Protestant churches already allow married men and women to serve as ministers and their congregations still face shortages.
“The deeper issue is the faith of the family,” Fr. Connolly said. “If they don’t take the Eucharist as the primary source of their relationship with faith, vocations aren’t going to follow. We have to get to the deeper notion that faith is being part of a church community, worshipping on a regular basis, where Mass becomes a priority.”
Father Tom Spiegel, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, appreciates the urgency of the planning process. Within 10 years the diocese expects to have 19 fewer priests for parish ministry, approximately one-third of the number serving today.
The planning meeting Fr. Spiegel attended Sept. 26 at St. Mary Parish in Pella inspired his reflections for the following week’s homily, he said.
“Planning for the future helps us to focus on what is important,” Fr. Spiegel, who will retire in July, told his congregation. “Writing down our vision so we can see it helps us prepare and act.”
Already, his parish hired Deacon Donald Efinger of the Pella parish to work part-time as Oskaloosa’s administrator in anticipation of the two parishes sharing a pastor after Fr. Spiegel’s retirement.
“It’s no secret that parishes are going to have to be shared with pastors. It’s not just Pella and Osky,” Fr. Spiegel said. “Hearing the Scriptures together and receiving Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist every week are basic to living the Gospel and nurturing our faith.” And to live by faith, he said, “means that our life has to shift from ourselves to God. Living the faith fully and sincerely can and does make serious demands.”
Faith gives Fr. Spiegel hope. He refers to Jesus’ message in Scripture that if you have but a speck of faith, you can move mountains. “We don’t necessarily have all the answers, but we know that our faith tells us Christ will not abandon his Church.”