Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 30, 1998
St. James parishioners urged to die and rise again
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Parishioners at St. James Church in southeast Edmonton were asked Nov. 22 to "pray that we may discern well what the Spirit of Jesus is asking us as we journey on, and that we may walk in faith with great hope as people of God."
Some at the Sunday morning Mass wiped away tears as the pastor, Holy Cross Father Michael Toner, held a copy of the Faithful Into the Future report and explained what it meant for the archdiocese as well as the parish.
Toner emphasized that "there is a lot of fairness" in the document, which outlines plans for restructuring parishes throughout the Edmonton Archdiocese.
"When this document was presented to me, I could see that it affected almost every parish, rural and urban," he told the congregation.
"Then I flipped through the report to get to the plan for us, and when I saw what would happen to St. James, it became personal. I thought of how much it will affect all of us."
Under the restructuring plan, St. James is to be merged into Assumption Parish by August 2000, and then pursue the formation of a new parish together with St. Michael-Resurrection.
St. Mark's Community of the Deaf, which is part of St. James, will move to St. Anthony Parish, while St. Jung Ha Sang Korean Parish will join St. James in merging with Assumption.
Prior to the Nov. 22 Mass, Toner told the WCR one of his greatest concerns is the large number of senior parishioners with deep ties to St. James.
But he added "it's going to be traumatic for a number of people," including young families whose children are comfortable with the smaller church.
Younger members of the parish shared that concern. Leona Sellyeh grew up in the area and was married at St. James. Her parents are members of the parish, and she herself still attends whenever she's in the neighbourhood.
"It's very sad," she said while greeting friends after Mass. "For my parents, and for most of those here it will be devastating." She says larger parishes with 2,000 to 4,000 families don't have the same feeling of a close-knit community where "everyone knows your name."
For Dennis Sheehan, the amalgamation of St. James is a "sign of the times."
Like Sellyeh, he grew up in the parish, attending kindergarten in the church basement and then St. James School around the corner.
After "moving around a lot," he recently bought a house in the neighbourhood, and has been part of the music ministry at St. James for 10 years.
"There have been so many changes in this community from when I remember it," he says. "It's a natural thing; kids grow up and move away, and churches and schools are considered not viable anymore."
Along with a shortage of priests, the situation makes closures and amalgamations inevitable, he says.
Sheehan, however, sees some positive aspects of belonging to a larger parish particularly in terms of a shared responsibility for music. "The way it is now, if one or two of us don't show up, there just isn't any music," he says.
Focusing on the positive is important, Toner says. He is urging parishioners not to think of the amalgamation solely as a loss, but also to see the possibilities it provides.
"The paschal mystery is central to our faith - the fact that Jesus died and rose again," he told the congregation. "When he died, there was a great loss, but when he rose we got something far greater than we could ever have imagined: the kingdom of God."
Some positive aspects to amalgamation, he pointed out, could be an improved financial situation, the possibility of reaching out to more people and making new friends. "I also think we will discover some new ministries, like transportation, that we could develop together," he said.
A fundamental need right now, Toner says, is the opportunity to have people share their fears, sorrow, anger, frustration and other feelings that need to be addressed.
He says plans are already underway to organize a regional pastoral council with Assumption and St. Michael-Resurrection parishes. "We want to set this up as soon as possible so that people can speak to the issue and get together with the other parishes to start bridging the gap."
He encouraged his congregation to "proceed with calmness and a sense of who we are and how we are going to move on.
"What I ask of you especially at this stage is to remain open to the dialogue, take time to process this, and find ways to celebrate the great history of St. James and what it has meant to so many.
"I've been here more than six years and have grown to know so many of you. We have walked together in ministry. There is a great spirit here, a sense of togetherness and support for each other.
"Right now," he continued with a smile, "you are probably more certain of your future than I am. However, we will continue to walk with the Spirit of God."