This year more than 75 priests will move from one parish to another. That is a lot of packing and unpacking -- and not just books and clothes.
We've been through this before. It's June and the Church of Boston experiences the Great Migration. On June 2, 33 parishes officially began their existence as 16 collaboratives in the third phase of implementation of the pastoral plan, "Disciples in Mission." These collaboratives are urban, suburban, and rural. Eight of them have a pastor who was already in one of the collaborative parishes; seven have a new pastor, and, in the Plainville-Wrentham collaborative, the former pastor Father Bill Schmitt is staying on as the parochial vicar and the former parochial vicar, Father Joe Mozer, is now the pastor. This brings the total number of collaboratives to 48, comprised of 103 parishes. But movement and change in June are not limited to just parishes in collaboratives.
This year more than 75 priests will move from one parish to another. That is a lot of packing and unpacking -- and not just books and clothes. Worldly goods may fit into cardboard crates, but memories may not fit so easily into packing boxes. Every move involves both an ending and a beginning. Even with the excitement of meeting a new priest or meeting new parishioners, it can be hard for everyone. Because of the promise of obedience to the bishop, Cardinal Sean, a priest may be asked to move -- to bring his faith, gifts, and expertise to another parish. Rarely is this easy, sometimes it's downright painful.
It can never be said enough: the bond between priest and parishioner is unique and sacred. There is privilege on both sides. This priest has become not just a good shepherd, but oftentimes a friend, counselor, and a constant presence at a time when many things in life are fluctuating. It can be very hard to say goodbye. And the priest who leaves, takes with him memories of good times and difficult times; the successes and the things that, despite hope, prayer, and hard work, were less than successful. He takes memories of the parishioners who pitch in for everything -- the "go-to" folks, willing to help with any project. He has also come to know, and count on the presence of the elderly couple at the 9 a.m. Mass, who sit on the left, third row, every Sunday, faithful to God and to each other. And the family with the frisky toddlers who frequently add their voices to his homily! It takes all of his will power not to laugh at their eagerness to be included, and he really admires their patience, trying to sit still. They are a joy to see each week -- such a sign of hope. These folks aren't at every parish event, but they are as much a part of his priestly life as those who are. He will miss all of them. And now he is starting over, in a new parish, with new parishioners, and a new staff.
When the Phase III pastors were at the Pastoral Center in May, they acknowledged that the magnitude of pastoring multiple parishes was becoming ever more real. One commented: "I just discovered that it's a lot more complicated than I thought, but my attitude is, one day at a time." It is clear that these pastors are fully aware of the challenges, the potential, and the hope that collaborative ministry offers. Excitement mixed with nervousness seems to be an appropriate and healthy attitude. The experience of the March and May pastor training sessions reinforced the reality that we're all in this together. Asked for their reason for hope, one pastor commented: "Sometimes in ministry we have no idea what we have, but God takes what we have and blesses it. Reason for hope? Our faith. But challenges compete with that. The longer we're at this the less confidence we have in ourselves and the more confidence we have in God. We're convinced of the victory because the victory is already won."
We pray for many things this week in June: vocations to the priesthood, and Phase III collaborative parishioners, staffs, pastors, permanent deacons, and parochial vicars who are meeting each other for the first time in new parish assignments.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.