View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Dinner with a pastor

Father Steve was over last night.

It’s the first time I’ve had a priest over in years.

He’s the one who suggested it – but Nancy and I had no problem with having him over.
It was an enjoyable meal and conversation. We shared some ideas about the Church and the parish, and a few jokes.

Why did he suggest it? I don’t know.

If I were in his place, I can imagine reasons why I would do it.

If I were relatively new to a parish, I would want to get to know the people in the parish – and in particular people who take on leadership roles. I’d also want to get to know someone who’s said he’s interested in becoming a deacon – and may some day become the parish’s deacon.

Plus, being a human being new to a place, I’d like to set up a social network.

He said he is praying for my deacon quest. I appreciate that.

He also suggested that he could use another deacon at the parish – though I pointed out that I wouldn’t be ordained for five years. Of course, given the way this diocese handles priest appointments (12 years maximum, except in special circumstances or for priests who are grandfathered), he would still have seven years left at the parish.

He is in a tough situation.

In the last 10 years, the parish has had a number of upheavals.

The diocese decided the close the parish school – which was doing well – so it could use the building to house the regional junior high school. A number of people in the parish got really upset about that. Some of them left the parish – and the Church – as a result. Interestingly, the parish now has only four children attending the school.

Then, one pastor decided the church needed to be renovated. The church does look nice now, but at the time people protested how much it would cost. Some of them left, or refused to support the project. The parish did have a portfolio at the time the project began. Those funds are now depleted.

That project pastor was suddenly moved to another parish after the pastor of the other parish got involved with a woman. Sigh. He was able to help stabilize that other parish, but it left things unsettled at our parish.

Our last pastor was not a fundraiser, or a booster. As a result, parish funds decreased even more as the parish had to pay diocesan assessments, and parish groups died off (including the social ministry committee). One unfortunate part of the situation was that that priest was black, and some of the older people at the parish did not like that. (Sigh).

Then, that pastor suddenly signed on as a military chaplain and was gone. Father Steve served as the administrator for six months, and then was officially named pastor in June.

What he faces is a parish where attendance has dropped and collections are down. The parish no longer has savings. Many of the committees are defunct or comatose.

He is the lone priest – other than a retired priest in residence and a religious order priest who helps out occasionally.

Because there are many seniors in the parish – including a senior housing project developed on land provided by the church - there are lots of funerals. There were 130 last year alone!

Father Steve has to do almost all the funerals because the retired priest can’t stand for any length of time, and the parish can’t afford to pay too many stipends for other priests to do the services.

Meanwhile, the parish deacon has had health problems, and now spends part of the year in Florida.

No wonder Father Steve is excited at the possibility of another deacon in the parish.

I hope he keeps praying about it. I am.

Meanwhile, maybe we all need to be a little more aware of our priests’ social and human needs, and invite them over for dinner.


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