SUBJECT: Pastor Transition: 3 Phases for both sides of the coin
In early May, parish staff members attended a Pastoral Transition workshop led by representatives from the Archdiocese and from Loyola University's Institute of Pastoral Studies. The meeting was attended by about 50 people from different parishes, including St. Gertrude's, where Fr. Rich will be heading on July 1. Here is what we learned:
The scholar William Bridges has a helpful model to conceptualize the changes we are and will be going through. He envisions transition as going through a series of phases. The first phase is the
. It is a time to mourn what has been lost as a result of the transition. It can involve fear, darkness, denial that the change is even happening and anger. While it can be an uncomfortable stage for some, it is a completely necessary stage to go through because it helps an individual gradually acknowledge that something is different. When an individual is going through this stage, it is important to have someone that you are comfortable with to listen to your concerns. For us at St. Josaphat, many could feel anxiety over the changes Fr. Francis will bring, since we may be comfortable with how Fr. Rich has done things over the past 12 years. To make it even more complicated, we are also going through a change in school administration. All of these feelings are natural and should be embraced in a healthy constructive way.
The second phase is the
, which is a bridge between the first and the last phases. People in this phase may experience low morale, still more darkness, more confusion, perhaps even an identity crisis as they continue to confront the changes. To get through this stage, it is important to encourage others to think in new ways and be willing to take risks and develop new procedures that may seem intimidating. Good guidance or constructive feedback can really determine whether or not individuals make it out of this phase successfully. Parishioners can go through this stage with conversations about how to change procedures or ways the parish will function. When the school year begins these concerns can intensify: how will the new administrators function within the context of the parish?
The final phase, the
, is one of adjustment. There may still be lingering sadness about what has been lost and that is fine, but we can still "see the light" as they say. A certain level of comfort has been restored. There could be a considerable amount of energy and a willingness to learn. We rediscover ourselves and we can develop new identities to meet current challenges. It is important in this stage to emphasize the successes that have been achieved and to continue adapting, otherwise the environment can easily become stagnant. For us at St. Josaphat, we may be going through this phase by celebrating goals that were achieved with Fr. Francis and the principal, recognizing the positives that they bring to the community and continuing to envision a bright future.
The most interesting perspective was looking at the transition from the point of view of the new pastor (and in our case, school administrator). Though it is not often acknowledged, this change can cause our new parish leaders as much stress as the parishioners (if not more!) Think about it... the pastor has just moved his entire life from one house to another, from one neighborhood to another, from one community to another, from one culture to another, and he is tacitly expected to adapt immediately. Same with new school staff, they are expected to function at a proficient level from the get-go. Pastors typically do not come in knowing parish customs, traditions and processes, so something that we may consider a "huge deal" may be a lesser priority to the pastor. Pastors also have to make difficult decisions while managing the relationship dynamics between groups and individuals in the church and the school. With all these factors in mind, it is crucial to remember to not jump to conclusions about a new leader's intentions.
We were made aware of some sobering statistics, which are on the Archdiocese's website.
For example, the Archdiocese has less than half of the priests that it had in the 1970s, but the priests are expected to say the same number of masses that were said in the 1970s (even with dwindling participation). Ordinations have gone down drastically too. During the 1970s, over 30 priests were ordained every year. This year the Archdiocese will only ordain 6 men to the priesthood. Fifty years ago, most parishes had multiple priests in residence who took care of all parish work with a minimal lay staff. Now it is reversed; in most parishes there is only one priest with a complement of lay staff. Another interesting statistic, the majority of active priests taking care of the day-to-day work in parishes are in their 60's!
In the midst of this somewhat depressing news, there was an interesting insight. During a pastoral transition meeting in another diocese, amidst similar uncertainty, an individual commented that this all could be the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we may want to embrace these changes as part of God's loving plan for us and our community, and even pray for guidance. In fact, we can even see that in our history here at St. Josaphat! Like our predecessors incorporated the underutilized convent into our school, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will also find a way to increase our faith and make our community stronger through the changes in our parish and the archdiocese.