To me one of the great treasures of the Catholic Church is that we are not just an agglomeration of individual churches. Each church has its own building but we share the same liturgy with every Latin Rite Catholic Church across the world. When a person goes to any Latin Rite Catholic Church in the world on Sunday, they hear the same readings and prayers as every other Latin Rite Catholic Church. So, when we celebrate the Mass we act in unity with every other Latin Rite Catholic Church in the world.
While united in the readings and prayers there is also diversity. Each church selects its own music (under common principles). Each church hears a homily that respects “The Signs of the Times” in each community. While normally based on the readings, each homily may be different in accord with the local needs and circumstances. What is the most important issue in a small rural church in the United States may not be important in a church in a large city in China.
The local church is the place where we celebrate the Mass and we are part of a worldwide church under the Pope. We also need to be aware that we are part of a diocese under the local bishop. We are called to work together as a diocese. Each parish is called to work together with each other and the bishop to help proclaim the gospel message and serve the needs of God’s people.
In today’s church, we are seeing a new development in the way we see the church. Most adults in the United States today grew up in a Catholic Church where the local church was the parish. Now, with a decrease in the number of people who attend church and a decrease in the number of priests we are seeing parishes that are no longer one church building.
Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community where I serve is just such a community. Originally six churches (St. Andrew’s in Dundee, St. Januarius’ in Naples, St. Mary’s in Rushville, St. Michael’s in Penn Yan, St. Patrick’s in Prattsburgh, and St. Theresa’s in Stanley), it is now one parish sharing two active priests and a shared lay staff.
The driving force behind these churches combining is both the declining number of priests and parishioners. The fact that both the number of priests and number of parishioners has decreased cannot be denied. Some will argue about why the numbers are done. What I want to discuss here is, in light of the churches coming together, how can we be the best parish possible.
Logistically some of the benefits come in the administrative side where we have one business manager who does all the financial work for all the churches and two secretaries instead of several, so we are paying less in salaries freeing up money to do direct ministry.
I also see the combining of the churches under one pastor (with a parochial vicar) as a means to work together to take what is best in each church and share it with the others. The churches are not all the same but we can share ideas. Sharing one pastor is a first step. To help facilitate the working together several of our councils/committees serve as one committee for the whole parish. We have one Parish Council, one Finance Council, one Stewardship Committee, and one Liturgy Committee.
The coming together of the six churches has not been easy. There has been loss including two of the churches no longer having Mass. We cannot deny the loss. We could choose to try to avoid any change, to hold on to the past. While acknowledging the good of the past, I choose to look forward to see how we can pool our resources, taking the best from each church, and become the best Church we can be guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
I can’t change the past but I can do my part to make our parish and our Church the best it can be.
May God always guide us to be not the church we want to be but the church he calls us to be.