Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 24, 2001
WCR Letters to the Editor
Merged parishes share their experienceWe, the parish pastoral council in the region of the Most Holy Trinity - that is, of the Catholics celebrating at Christ-King, Stettler, Our Lady of Grace, Castor, and St. Andrew's Consort, want to respond to the recent article describing the final Mass and closure of Immaculate Heart Parish in Edmonton ("Immaculate Heart closes doors, WCR, Nov. 5).
It is with great compassion that we read about the anguish of parishioners now experiencing the amalgamation and closure of their churches.
We too have experienced the pain of having church doors closed, churches sold for a pittance, of watching the treasures of the parish go out the door piece by piece, of having to make room in the pews of the remaining churches for new members, of witnessing some Catholics abandon their faith for other religions or no religious practice at all.
The period of adjustment has been difficult in many ways.
However, as we look back over the last two years of restructuring and reorganizing, and as we look toward the future, we recognize many signs of hope and new life. It is this hope that we wish to share with our fellow Catholics who are now standing at the foot of the cross, wondering how they will go on.
"He sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal" (Luke 9:2). In spite of the shortage of priests - one of the major driving forces behind the Transformation of Parishes plan, people continue to have spiritual, pastoral and religious needs. People continue to hunger for the good news of the Gospel; and the proclamation of the kingdom of God continues to be the central mission of the Church.
There is a need that this proclamation happens not only from the pulpit on Sunday, but throughout the week and in a variety of ways. The challenge has been: How do we continue to experience fully the Catholic life, of which there are both sacramental and non-sacramental dimensions. Our conviction has been that this Catholic life transcends wood and mortar and geography; and continues to offer possibilities of transformation despite the difficulties that mileage, church closures and restructuring have caused.
Our region now has one priest serving three "Eucharistic centres" that incorporate seven towns over a region that spans over 180 km of highway. Thirty years ago seven priests served this same area.
The distance alone has been a challenge. One parish pastoral council member must drive one hour and fifteen minutes to attend the PPC meeting held once a month in Castor.
We have found that we cannot rely purely on geography to focus our efforts to build up our Catholic communities. Over the last two years we have re-organized our parish pastoral council to include representatives from all the towns.
However, PPC representatives, rather than being purely territorial in their focus, have put geography second to spiritual and pastoral goals. Each representative coordinates an area of ministerial oversight for all the parishes, and has local representatives to help them at each Eucharistic centre. It's all for one and one for all. It has been a shift, but as a parish council we have been learning to think differently and more regionally.
"That they may be one, just as we are" (John 17:11). As this reorganization has taken place we have noticed a greater unity in our region. We are spending less time looking inward, but our gaze turns more and more outward to include our neighbours.
We now have a clearer image of what it means to belong to a universal Church and we endeavour to work together to solve the problems in the extended parish family. We are discovering that there are some benefits to sharing in a larger reality that the smaller reality could not offer. The growth has been learning to enjoy and appreciate the strengths that come when we work together as a whole, and not in division and fragmentation.
"I will not leave you orphans" (John 14:18). We were concerned, as the church in one of our towns closed, that it would be difficult to maintain a Catholic presence in that community. But recently, the Protestant ministers of that community phoned a member of the Catholic Church to read a psalm at the Remembrance Day service.
It was very moving to realize that the Catholic presence would be maintained with the help of the Protestant clergy. Ecumenically, the contribution of the Catholic community is still valued and welcomed. How that presence is made manifest calls us to a deeper demonstration of our faith, not a departure from it.
"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14-15). Immediately after the closure of one church, those of us who found ourselves in strange surroundings felt like foreigners, unsure of our place. Our new hosts welcomed us warmly but still we felt like visitors.
However, in no time, our new church began to feel more familiar. Every week we saw many of the old familiar faces, and before long, the new faces became familiar too. Our new parish made an effort to encourage us to full participation in the life of the parish. After all, there's no shortage of work. And it is ministry, more than geography, that lies at the heart of parish life.
There is nothing like being asked to contribute to a potluck supper to make you feel like one of the family. It's rather like marriage. When we marry, we gain a new family. This does not diminish the importance of the family we grew up in, but becoming part of a new family enriches and challenges us in new and unexpected ways. Sometimes there is pain, sometimes joy, but always there is growth.
"In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world" (John 16:33). We do not wish to give the impression that the transition has been smooth. There are many who are still hurting and many, many problems yet to be solved.
But God has given us much reason to hope. He has given us a vision and the collective will to fulfill that vision. We are invited to continue to live the mission of the Church in these present circumstances. He has given us his promise: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
The Parish Pastoral Council of the Region of the Most Holy Trinity
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