Resolve to pay attention in 2011

By Frank Wessling

It is good to make resolutions, and the beginning of the calendar year is a good marker for the practice.

Without resolve, without focus and determination, without goals — or at least aims — we drift with unexamined currents of habit and fashion. This need for resolution applies to communities like the Catholic Church as well as individuals.

Here in the Davenport Diocese a resolve to examine the way we live together began spreading last year, in 2010. It had become very clear that our established patterns of parish life and ministry could not be sustained. We don’t have the number of priests required for that. A program of parish and inter-parish discussions was begun so that planning for something new would involve people in the pews.

This project of planning for better communication, cooperation and collaboration — all for the sake of making the Gospel a clearer and more vital presence for everyone in the diocese — will continue in 2011. We should all resolve to welcome it, pay attention when we hear something about it, get involved and make our own positive contributions in our own parishes as opportunities come up.

This is not the first time our diocese has gone through such a process. Forty years ago it involved a radical reduction and consolidation of Catholic schools. Not enough nuns were available to continue business as usual. Communities of religious women were losing members and the Sisters were expanding their focus of ministry beyond schools.

Later the diocese initiated a round of discussion to prepare for greater inter-parish and multi-parish cooperation. This led to many of the multi-parish clusters we now have, with one priest responsible for as many as three parishes in three towns.

What might be called the great contraction of the past 40 years has seen dozens of parish communities dissolved. A great many of us have already had the wrenching experience of a final Mass in the parish where we were baptized and the slow work of making a new community with neighboring Catholics hit by the same reality. We know in our bones a new sense of responsibility and ownership of our faith.

There are now 80 parishes in the diocese. This is a drop of one-third from the number in 1970. There are now 53 pastors/administrators for our parishes. That is less than half the number 40 years ago. Only 29 parishes have a pastor whose ministry is a single parish. The other 51 are connected in some sharing arrangement with priests serving more than one parish.

That is a reality of Catholic community life in 2011. Priests have had to adjust, seminaries have had to adjust their training of future priests, and parish members have to assume a share of responsibility for the health of their communities. Conversation and planning about that responsibility will be important here this year. Pay attention. Our serious attention is needed.

It is, after all, our Church, the home of our faith, the hope of our lives.

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