Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 15, 1999
Guidelines approved for merged parishes
By GLEN ARGAN
Merged parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese will unite not only their congregations, but also their financial and physical assets under guidelines adopted by the Council of Priests.
The guidelines say that when property owned by a merged parish is sold, the proceeds will be held in trust by the archdiocese for capital expenses made by the parish which was expanded by the merger.
The guidelines also say the archdiocesan financial administrator is responsible for disposing of all physical assets of merged parishes.
The guidelines were written by a five-man committee chaired by Holy Cross Father Michael Toner. They were recently approved and sent out to parishes by Archbishop Thomas Collins.
They apply to parishes merged under the parish restructuring plan for the archdiocese announced a year ago.
However, parish mergers need not lead to the closure of churches and communities associated with the merged parish.
A one-page policy statement for "small church community" sets rules for maintaining a local community after the parish has been merged.
Toner told the WCR he envisions such small communities being allowed only in rural areas of the archdiocese. "I can't think of one area in the city where this could take place," he said.
"The creation of a small church community to replace a parish community that has been merged into a larger parish can be seen as a rational alternative to complete closure of the local church," says the policy statement.
However, the statement sets strict conditions for maintaining the local community, saying first that the group must be authorized by the archbishop.
There must be "a critical mass of people" who participate in the community and they must be "intimately connected" to the archdiocese and the archbishop through the new parish and pastor, it says.
The small community must see the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist in the parish as "the key component of the life of that community," the statement says.
As well, the small community must have qualified leaders who will work in unity with the pastor, people and pastoral council of the parish, it continues.
And the small community must support the parish through shared ministries and financially, says the policy statement.
No more than 25 per cent of the revenue collected in the small community can go to maintaining its physical facilities, it says.
The guidelines for implementing parish mergers and the twinning or clustering of parishes say policies are needed to carry out the process "in a systematic and rational manner."
Toner said even today the archdiocese still has ultimate control over parish assets and money. "Parishes have separate identities but they are under the umbrella of the archdiocese and the archdiocese sets guidelines for use of the money."
For merged parishes, there will be one parish pastoral council, one finance committee and one bank account. Programs and ministries must also be consolidated.
The new parish must maintain the physical facilities, including any cemetery, of the parish that was merged.
Staff of parishes that are merged will be immediately consolidated. Archdiocesan personnel policies must be followed in dealing with any staff considered to be excess to the new parish's needs.
The guidelines also call for a special celebration to be held to mark the closure of a parish and another celebration in the larger merged parish "to mark the joyful creation of a new faith community."
Toner said setting guidelines for a healing process in merged parishes was beyond the terms of reference of his committee.
Such a process requires leadership from the pastor and parish council, he said. "In some cases, nothing is being done and it's going to be a shock to people. I think that's not fair to the community."
Toner, pastor of Edmonton's St. James Parish which will be merged with Assumption Parish next spring, said there's a need to emphasize the positive aspect of parish restructuring.
"Something new is being fostered and developed as the parish is being merged or clustered," he said. The new communities will benefit from a greater sharing of talents and money.