July 20, 2013 – Partnership Progress

One of the characteristics of summer time around the parish is that it’s usually a little bit of a slower time in terms of there being no school, and also fewer meetings and functions (although if you told that to our new Vicar Forane, Fr. Gene, he would probably look at you as if you had 2 heads).  But as usual, the summer season goes by very fast, and lo and behold we find ourselves only about a month away from the school year.  Likewise, we are getting back into the swing of our regular meeting and ministry schedules.  This coming “parish year” has a little bit of a different feel to it because in addition to the usual parish business, we are also continuing to sort through our new parish partnerships. In particular, we continue to examine our own partnership with St. Mary’s in Ellis Grove, and the implications that this will have for our future.

As I mentioned briefly in my last blog, this past week our Parish Council along with the Council from St. Mary’s, Ellis Grove held another joint meeting to discuss our partnership, what the future may hold and how we are going to approach things in the short-term and the long-term.  In beginning our discussions a few months ago, I had a couple of concerns.  One is that, of course, none of us know what the near future will bring, so it would be difficult to come up with a specific plan.  In an ideal world, we would keep our priests wrapped in bubble wrap, then break them out when we need them for a Mass, wedding or funeral.  We also ideally would have growing numbers in the seminary, and we could try to maintain what we have until the number of priests would start growing.  Unfortunately, neither of these are imminent.  We certainly must continue to pray for vocations, and we hope that the fresh “energy” that Pope Francis seems to have brought will coax a few more guys to the seminary.  Bishop Braxton has also taken the step of appointing Fr. Nick Junker, currently administrator of the parish in DuQuoin, to full-time vocations director beginning September 1.  Hopefully, each of these things will result in an increase in the number of priests, but this would not be felt for 10-15 years down the line.

The other concern I had was whether folks would be open to the changes that would need to be made in order to continue to function as a viable parish or parishes.  Would people accept a revised Mass schedule when we lose a priest?  Would they be willing to attend Mass at another church at times?  Would they be willing to work together jointly in ministries such as RCIA?  Answers to these questions will be found out down the road.  However, if our first few meetings are any indication, we will not only be willing to accept these necessary changes, but we will be at the forefront in implementing them.

We have already seen a little bit of this happen.  Last month, Fr. Gene and Fr. Ben, Administrator of Ellis Grove, did a “pulpit exchange” in which they celebrated Masses at each other’s parishes.  This will be done a couple more times over the next few months.  The Communal Penance Service for the season of Advent in December will be a joint service held at Ellis Grove.  It was also felt that we should begin to involve both congregations a little more in this process, so we are discussing a couple of possible activities.  One that is set in stone is on Saturday, August 17.  On this day there will be NO 5:00PM Mass here at Chester.  Instead, we are invited and encouraged to attend the 6:00PM Mass that evening at Ellis Grove.  Fr. Gene and Fr. Ben will concelebrate.  Following the Mass, all will be invited to stick around for some refreshments, fellowship, and discussion of our parish partnership.  This will be an opportunity for folks to start to get to know each other and to share their concerns as we move forward in this process.

Another activity that may possibly be coming in the future is a Valentine’s Day gathering on February 15 of next year at our parish.  This would include 5:00PM Mass, some munchies afterwards and also a dance.  This is still very much in the planning stages.

There are of course the real nitty-gritty things that we are in the process of being worked out such as what our Mass schedule will be when we lose a priest from our partnership.  The initial proposal calls for a Saturday evening Mass here at Chester, one Sunday Mass at Ellis Grove, and one Sunday Mass at Chester.  This is only an initial proposal, and is something that we must discuss further.

As you read all of this, you may be thinking that this appears to be happening very fast.  I agree.  As we sat in the meeting the other night, there were a couple of times when I felt like saying, “maybe we need to slow down a little here and take a deep breath.”  However, there are a couple of reasons why we need to continue to move forward.  One is that we are expected to have an initial progress report turned in to the Diocese by September 15, and a final report by the end of the year as to what our plan will be when our partnership is ministered by just one priest.  Also, I think it shows everyone just how critical the situation has become.  Our people have heard a lot of “The time is coming when …”  Well, with the implementation of this plan, we have gotten to the stage in which  “The time is now.”

As I have said before, there is always loss involved with change.  There is always apprehension in having to do something different than what we have become accustomed to for so long.  However, as we said at our meeting the other night, there is also a sense of excitement in welcoming new people and ideas to our parish family.  After all, we are all Catholic.  We are a universal church.  We are one family in faith.  This is an opportunity to show this.  Pray for us and support us as we continue on this journey.

Have a great week!  Peace.

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One Response to “July 20, 2013 – Partnership Progress”

  1. Anita & Mike Bievenue Says:

    You made some excellent points as usual Brian. I think our Parrish family is up to the challenge and we look forward to working with our friends in Ellis Grove.

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