Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
June 18, 2001
Calgary combines parishes
Henry urges small Christian communities to form within expanded parishes
SPECIAL TO WCR
CALGARY — As larger parishes emerge across southern Alberta, small Christian communities will play a far greater role in the Diocese of Calgary in the years ahead, says Bishop Frederick Henry.
Parishes continue to be the centre of Church life, Henry said in an interview commenting on the final stage of parish restructuring across southern Alberta.
But he supports neighbourhood-based communities as a means of helping parishioners stay in touch with each other while nourishing their faith.
The diocese released its final report, The Church in Transition: Preparing for the Needs of the Church in the 21st Century, in early June following more than two and a half years of study, consultation and sometimes gut-wrenching and painful discussion.
If implemented in full, 14 parishes will merge into six parishes; eight parishes will be "twinned" into five parishes; and 26 mission churches will be closed.
In a merger, two parishes are combined into one parish with one of the churches designated as the parish church. For example, in Medicine Hat the parishes of Christ the King and St. Mary's are merging to form Holy Family Parish.
In twinning, two neighbouring parishes are united as one, without either parish losing its identity. For instance, St. Mary's in Banff was "twinned" with Sacred Heart Parish in Canmore, with a combined pastoral team.
When the Diocesan Planning Commission began its work, there were 77 parishes and 37 missions in the diocese. If all the commission's recommendations are implemented, there will be 69 parishes and 15 missions left.
In keeping with the changes, the bishop announced more than two dozen pastoral assignments in mid-May. Henry put pastors in place for some of the churches that will be twinned, merged or combined on Aug. 1.
The changes were designed to address a situation where, like Edmonton, there is a declining number of clergy to serve a growing diocese.
As a result parishes, especially in cities throughout the diocese, will be bigger. In rural areas, parishioners may have to drive further to attend Mass.
The 66-page report also contained several recommendations on other areas such as architectural guidelines, parish record keeping, diocesan renewal, parish vitality and new vocations.
As well, a special study was made of the situation on the four native reserves in the diocese.
Finally, the process of self-examination served as a wake-up call to improve the quality of parish life.
However, the recommendations only freed up eight clergy positions across the diocese, says the report.
"The bishop will need to continue to spearhead the search for new vocations within the diocese, along with the support of the faithful in every parish."
"His continuing efforts to attract new clergy to the diocese are also important to the sustained future of the diocese."
"As drastic as the measures were, they still only provide a temporary level of relief, as far as available clergy are concerned," says the seven-member Diocesan Planning Commission chaired by Moderator Father John Shuster.
"This does, however, provide the bishop with a bit of latitude, as he contemplates assignment changes across the diocese."
Some recommendations are already being implemented with the approval of the parishes involved; others are set to occur Aug. 1 and await an official decree from the bishop.
Further, there are recommendations for an examination of further mergers or twinnings across the diocese during the next few years, such as St. Gerard's and St. Anthony's in Calgary.
In coping with the changes, the bishop is encouraging the development of lay ministry, comprising specially trained lay leaders and deacons, together with greater involvement by ordinary laity.
The bishop hopes that groups, such as the Catholic Women's League, will help implement small Christian communities.
In a small Christian community (SCC) anywhere from six to a dozen people meet weekly in parish homes to study Catholic doctrine and Sunday Scripture readings, as well as socialize and build a stronger sense of parish community.
SCCs first emerged in the Calgary Diocese about 10 years ago and have been particularly successful at St. Luke's Parish in the northwest. In a report to parishes last year, the Diocesan Planning Commission applauded St. Luke's saying, "Share the wealth. Share the experience that has led to your success in pastoral ministry."
When he set up the commission in 1998, Henry set a guiding principle, "People support what they help to create."
Shuster is pleased with the outcome of the report.
"The response in general was much more positive than I expected and easier than I expected," Shuster said in an interview. "That's not to minimize the pain and suffering involved and the difficulty in implementing the solutions and recommendations."
A key to their success, he said, is that changes were made using the information provided by the parishes themselves.
"It was very challenging yet, in a way, very rewarding. People were aware of the need for changes in most cases, despite the personal losses of churches and the loss of history."
Nonetheless, the commission was "inundated" with letters from both parish representatives and individual parishioners who challenged the recommendations. The letters and concerns were handled directly either by the bishop or the commission chairman.
Following feedback, which led to substantial revisions in some cases and better solutions in many others, implementation began earlier this year with the closure of some missions and churches.
Fred Arseneault, co-chair of the merger committee at Canadian Martyrs in northwest Calgary, said reaction was mixed when it was announced last November that the 600-family Calgary parish would merge with 250-family St. Andrew Kim Korean Parish on Aug. 1.
The new church will be called Canadian and Korean Martyrs Church with separate Masses in both English and Korean. St. Andrew Kim, a basement bunker church, is being sold.
"Like in any sudden announcement of change, some people were taken aback," Arseneault said. "Some welcome it, some were concerned especially about Mass times and the change in the name of the church."
The reality of the situation took hold last month when Father Andrew Pyon, a bilingual priest formerly of Corpus Christi Parish, was named pastor of the new parish, replacing Father Gordon Kennedy, pastor of Canadian Martyrs.
As parishioners struggled in both churches with the loss of their pastor, Arseneault said, "There was pain in all quarters."
To help parishioners deal with the changes, Father Max Oliva led a retreat at Canadian Martyrs in May where he talked about the impact of change.
"There's a sense of reality now that it's official," said Arseneault. "Now we have to move ahead and see where it goes."
And wherever a church closes, there is pain. As a result, Henry emphasizes ritualizing the closures, with a symbolic passing on of the sacred vessels and vestments to another parish, and allowing parishioners to bow, kiss and touch the altar.
"As attractive as it might be to return to the old ways or remain the same, that's just not possible," he said during a homily at the closing liturgy in late April at two mission churches, St. Clare's Church in Hays and St. James Church in Rolling Hills, northeast of Lethbridge.
"Like the disciples we need to listen with open hearts and spirits to the voice of Jesus who also says to us: 'Peace be with you,'" Henry told packed churches where former parishioners came from neighbouring provinces for the final liturgy.
"He always speaks a word of hope and grace to us in our pain and anguish and calls us to compassion, love and forgiveness."
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