Once upon a time, there were two churches in the Very Same Zip Code. (Actually, there were three, but one of them is not important to this story). There was a Big Church and a Little Church.
The Bishop decided that there were too many churches and not enough priests, and he would solve that problem by declaring the Great Merger of 2007. Two or more churches would get together and there would only be one priest. They would have to share.
But it was a big secret for a long time, which churches would be sharing together. And the people got all worried about this.
There were rumors. There were guesses. There were accusations that one church or other owed a lot of money, or things like that, which turned out to be untrue.
Big Church wanted to show the Bishop that they were big enough to be all alone and get their own priest all for themselves. They worked hard to get lots of people to sign up so they would have enough families to prove how big they really were.
The priest at Little Church told the people that it was time to stop making guesses and spreading rumors. It was time to just pray that everyone could share nicely.
Then the Great Merger of 2007 was almost upon them. And the church bulletins came out.
Here's what Big Church had to say:
This fall will also bring decisions and realities which may affect our Parish, and so I know we are all joined together in prayer as we wait to hear what the future will hold. The date given for this little exercise in trusting in the will of God is the 21st of September, which by the way is the feast of the holy Apostle, St. Matthew.
Here's what Little Church had to say:
Bishop has scheduled a meeting with all the priests of the Deanery on Friday, September 21, 2007. At that time, Bishop will announce his decisions for the restructuring of parishes in our deanery. In preparation for the announcement, we pray that the Spirit will move us forward with our new realities in faith, hope and love. This is an opportunity for all of us to say “Yes” to God as the Church responds to the needs of the diocese in this County. At all Masses next weekend, we will announce the restructuring decisions.
Wasn't it nice that Little Church made this announcement by calling everyone to prayer rather than resorting to sarcasm?
Awhile back, I asked Father JC Maximilian, who is a priest in my diocese and who ministers at a merged parish north of here, to give advice to the people of my area who are going through this now. Here is his advice:
Patience and Support. Those are the two things that most priests that I have spoken with who are in merged parishes want from their parishioners. Speaking for myself, I was not asked what I thought about merging these parishes. While I certainly understand, practically, why we need to look at this, there are also reasons against merging. It is the bishop's call, and I know that he does not make these decisions lightly, so I will support his decisions. The people need to know that the priests are doing their best.
It is not reasonable to think that after merging two parishes, with the reduction in priests, that the priests will be able to do everything that was done when the parishes were separate. Some things cannot be duplicated. You cannot have two Easter Vigils if it is a single parish. People need to stop making comparisons and thinking that it is some type of competition between the two halves.
One thing that will help which I think the Diocese has learned from the first round of mergers is give the parish a new name. First, a hyphenated name is ridiculous. Besides, it is not conducive to getting parishioners to think of themselves as being part of one parish.
Parishioners should make an effort to participate at events at both locations, getting to know each other. VOLUNTEER to help with something - remember, there are fewer priests covering more. Recognize with an "atta boy Fr." your priest. We don't do this for praise, but we are also human, so sometimes that little recognition that you are working hard is appreciated.
Be patient with Father's human limitations. I am not proud to say this, but there are times when from fatigue and/or frustration I am snippy with people. I am working on it. Your priest probably also can be cranky in his own way at times. Be charitable in your judgment.
The best advice for what to do when your parish is part of a merger is to follow the advice of St. John in one of his letters, "My children, love one another."
I thank Father JC for his advice. I hope we will all take it to heart.
Please pray for all the churches in our Deanery as we await the announcements and find out with whom we will share.