The importance of preparation

This weekend the archdiocese reflects in a special way on the gift of priesthood as we celebrate the ordination of nine priests. The life of a priest is one of faithfulness, sacrifice, and obedience. We give thanks for these nine men who begin their life of priestly service to God and the people of the archdiocese at this exciting and challenging time. As seminarians, they received training in the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan, Disciples in Mission to prepare them for the time when they will serve in a parish collaborative.

Phase II of Disciples in Mission will be inaugurated next month when 20 pastors begin serving 43 parishes. In addition to the 43 parishes that make up the Phase II Collaboratives, other parishes will be affected by the transfer of a pastor or parochial vicar. Moving is part of priestly ministry. Pastors, parochial vicars, permanent deacons, and parishioners are well aware that no assignment is forever. Knowing this, however, doesn't mitigate the sadness when a good priest moves on. This can be a time of uncertainty and anxiety.

Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Sharon is a Phase II parish in a collaborative with the Walpole parishes of St. Mary and Blessed Sacrament. Father Scott Euvrard, who has been Pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows for just over nine years, is moving to Amesbury/Salisbury to be pastor the collaborative of Holy Family and Star of the Sea Parishes. When it was announced that Our Lady's would be part of Phase II, Father Euvrard began a focused effort to prepare the parish for the changes ahead. He used a six-pronged approach: prayer, communication, Pope Francis' writing, questions and answers, difficult feelings, and past success.

Prayer is the place to begin. In the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass, the parish prayed in general for the pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission, and the work of new evangelization. Then, they prayed in particular for the parishes in the collaborative and the priests appointed. They also prayed for the parish communities from which the newly appointed priests are coming, and for the parish communities or ministries to which the current pastors have been assigned. Father Euvrard said, "We cast a wide net of prayer around the whole effort." Very appropriate image for an evangelizing parish!

Communication is a key component in facilitating a smooth change. Father Euvrard made sure that communication was clear, concise, and transparent. Information was transmitted through all available channels, including social media.

Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium"("The Joy of the Gospel") provided valuable direction and encouragement. Key paragraphs that spoke about a mission-oriented Church, the importance of the parish, and the responsibility of all the baptized to be missionary disciples, were of special significance. (Paragraphs 27, 28 and 120 respectively). Paragraph 33 presented challenges and inspiration:

"Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: 'We have always done it this way.' I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory. ... The important thing is to not walk alone, but to rely on each other as brothers and sisters, and especially under the leadership of the bishops, in a wise and realistic pastoral discernment." (The complete text of "The Joy of the Gospel" can be read online or downloaded at the Vatican website).

Parish leadership -- staff, parish pastoral council, parish finance council -- listened to parishioners' concerns and assembled a list of the most frequently asked questions. One unexpected question surfaced regarding the prospect that a parochial vicar will be part of the collaborative. The parish has not had a parochial vicar for about 40 years, so that role needed some explanation. Father Euvrard prepared answers for the questions that had emerged and distributed these Frequently Asked Questions, or FAQs, as widely as possible, including posting them on the parish web page.

Change can be difficult and Father Euvrard felt that it was important to acknowledge people's feelings, especially the difficult feelings of loss, grief, and anger. He reasoned that, "Acknowledging these difficult feelings makes it easier to open ourselves to the future, to the hope that springs forth from the possibilities of Disciples in Mission."

The last and perhaps the most poignant part of his preparation plan was reminding parishioners of their past success in navigating pastoral transitions. Before Father Euvrard arrived, Father Robert Bullock, their pastor of 26 years, became seriously ill and died while still in office.

Father Euvrard explains, "Parishioners were grieving the death of their longtime, beloved pastor and had concerns and anxiety over the future of their parish. Their faith and their commitment to their parish and the work of the Church assisted them in making this pastoral transition. Reminding them of their past success in making pastoral transitions gives them the confidence and inspiration to meet the challenges and opportunities of Disciples in Mission and the pastoral transitions involved."

If you fail to plan you are planning to fail. Trite, perhaps, but there is some truth here. At Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, the well thought out approach to preparing for Phase II, began with, and was grounded in, prayer. This prayerful preparation and practical approach will be a blessing for the people of Sharon as they say goodbye to their good pastor, Father Scott Euvrard, and welcome a new pastor, Father George Hines. The road ahead is exciting -- full of challenges but full of hope as well.

Susan Abbott is Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.