Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 24, 2000
Southside parishes ready to merge
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Parishioners at St. James and Assumption parishes have been trying to live and to work together for the past year and a half.
And they very much have to do so for in a few weeks the two Edmonton parishes will merge into one, with St. James Parish closing its doors June 4.
St. James, a 160-family parish in the southeast King Edward neighbourhood, is the first city parish to close under a plan calling for a drastic reduction in the number of parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Brought about by the shortage of priests and population shifts, the plan calls for the merger and twinning of more than 40 city and rural parishes.
When parishioners first learned of the plans to merge their parish in late 1998, they reacted with "quiet resignation," noted pastor Father Michael Toner.
"There wasn't a lot of reaction," although many in the parish simply wanted to avoid the merger, acknowledged parish council chair Angus Perry.
"Some are accepting. Some are neither but no one is going to fight it," he said.
Realizing there wasn't a clear alternative to merging, St. James Parish decided to embrace the merger and to work to make it successful.
At Assumption, a 620-family parish in the Strathearn neighbourhood, the feeling was one of relief.
"We were quite pleased because being the middle parish (in the area) we thought we would be the ones closing," says Assumption parishioner Jim Wiesner. "When they said we would be merging with St. James we felt a feeling of relief and joy because we would be staying and at the same time we would be helping another parish."
The parish pastoral councils of both parishes eventually began to meet together and in early 1999 they established a transitional council to smooth the waves and help people to move along.
The council is made up of the pastor and two lay representatives of the two parishes as well as St. Michael-Resurrection Parish, which is scheduled to be "clustered" with Assumption in 2001.
Under the leadership of the council, the parishes have organized a number of joint activities, including monthly communication sessions, a potluck supper and a recent ministries meeting that brought together about 120 people involved in liturgical ministries in the two parishes.
The liturgical meeting was an attempt to blend two different congregations as well as two different liturgical traditions.
"Parishes are not the same. Even though they belong to the same tradition, they approach the
liturgy differently," Toner said. "I hope that in time they'll be able to blend them together."
The two parishes have also struck joint ministry groups on education, communication, liturgy, fellowship, sacramental life and finances.
So far the transitional council has done a great job in preparing both parishes for the eventual merger, Toner said. "It has given people lots of time and opportunity to discuss and bring their concerns forward. I think it has been good."
Wiesner, one of Assumption Parish's representatives on the transitional council, said his parish will not roll over St. James, forcing them to conform to their ways.
Any committee that St. James has will merge with the similar committee at Assumption. "But if they have something we don't have, we will introduce it," Wiesner said.
Perry, who also chairs the transitional council, predicts the merger will work because most St. James' parishioners are coming to terms with it and are beginning to see it as the best solution.
For him, the merger is a call from God. "We are called to merge," he said. "That entails suffering but out of suffering comes growth. I see this as a great opportunity for growth."
The transitional council will meet again May 26 to review what has been done and to outline what else needs to be done to complete the transition. The council will continue to operate at least until the fall.
Members of both parishes will say farewell to St. James at a joint supper at Assumption Church June 3. The opening liturgy for the new parish will be held on Pentecost, June 11.
Meanwhile, Toner continues to await word from the Edmonton Archdiocese as to what's going to happen to St. James Church. Will it be demolished, sold, leased? He doesn't know.