Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Being “Connected” to a Parish

Dear Parishioners,

What I have to say here this week is a reflection on parish life that I initially made while pastor of a previous parish. These were/are simply my thoughts on the situation in far too many parishes in our diocese as we move into the future.

One of things I have tried to emphasize over my years as a priest is the importance of being “connected” to a particular parish. (My family, originally from Philadelphia, saw people identifying themselves primarily with their home parish.) I have usually thought a person or family should be anchored or rooted in a parish that they considered their own in order to be spiritually nourished.

Today, many people will more commonly “shop around” to find a church that will suit their needs for a short term solution rather than for a long haul commitment. The typical scenario is that a person, couple or family seeks out a church where they can get married or have their child baptized or have a deceased loved one buried or any of a number of occasions where a church and one of its ministers is needed for a specific time and purpose. If people still go to Mass each week, they may float around to whatever church has a Mass time to suit their current plans/schedule or attend a church where the particular preacher may appeal to them.

The past re-configuration of parishes throughout the diocese—while seen as critical by its leadership so that the entire diocese does not go “belly up” in the future—has not necessarily helped the situation.  People saw their parishes merged and re-named or, in some cases, closed entirely.  Similarly, schools were reconfigured, renamed or closed as well. The parish where parishioners were baptized, received their first Holy Communiongot marrieddonated a statuerefurbished the stained-glass window, etc., etc., was no longer there as they had known it for years. Any long-term connection was severed and people were told to move on and accept their new situation.

Given the fact that we have, over the years, also lost quite a few generations of Catholics who no longer practice their faith regularly or may have found another denomination that currently suits their needs, many of our parishes continue to struggle for future existence. Numerous younger Catholics don’t see a necessary connection to the local parish, don’t practice their faith regularly, don’t support the church financially, and continue to drift along without a spiritual compass. And we wonder: Why are our young people the way they are today? Consider all of the above factors, combined with the materialistic, hedonistic, egocentric culture in which we live. Additionally, young people have been disillusioned or even scandalized by the poor example of Church leadership. Doesn't seem to be a real rosy picture, does it?

Without an intimate connection to a parish by its parishioners, the future of this or any parish becomes rather tenuous. Certain individuals or certain families may still retain a strong relationship to their particular parish. However, I fear that for the vast majority of Catholics in our area, they will just drift along and wonder "why?" when some of their churches are no longer there for their families and for their spiritual needs in the future.

I pray I am wrong, but I am not currently convinced otherwise.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


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