Sunsets and Other Difficult Transitions

One of the biggest challenges to a parish leader is the discernment on when to bring a ministry or service to an end.

In our parish we offered Antioch retreats twice a year. Until this year. The Fall retreat was cancelled. In part it may have been difficulties recruiting a full team of leaders. There may be some “competition” from the New Student Retreat we offer on the second weekend of the term, as well as a very active “Busy Person’s Retreat” we offer each Fall. For this latter event, about mid-term or just after, we bring in a posse of spiritual directors and offer daily meetings Sunday through Thursday for “busy persons.” It has become so popular that many of our residents also participate.

One of my staff colleagues was bothered we were not offering a Fall Antioch. I got grilled on it over lunch. I explained the best I could, given my own limited information. My colleague was bothered I didn’t think it was a big deal. We offer other opportunities, I said. Spring Antioch has always been better attended. Sometimes, it’s okay to let something die, I suggested.

Reaction: shock.

When I saw this PrayTell thread on the ritual of “welcoming one another” before Mass, it started a chain of thought.

My own sense is that some practices and ministries are useful for the short-term. And then people move on. A mature community, be it a parish or a collection of religious, probably should be experiencing transition from one form of service or event to another. I would like to think I serve a reasonably mature faith community. We change with the circumstances of the times, and we adapt to the growing needs of long-time members.

Greeting one another before Mass strikes me as a transitional phase for a mature community. It would be needless in a religious community. Or a school setting. Or even a diocesan liturgy where people didn’t know one another. We don’t do it at our Thursday Night Liturgy, which is far more chummy and glad-handed than Sunday Mass

But I can see how people might make sense of greeting before Mass in the typical American suburban parish. There people live in isolated homes on culs-de-sac and shop, exercise, and trundle their kids to sprawling schools in anonymity. GIRM 46ff suggests that gathering and a sense of community is part of the preparation for liturgy. So if I were in a parish that did opt to greet before the Sunday entrance song (as I am) I’m disinclined to suggest we stop it.

Another aspect of the liturgical hospitality/gathering function is the employment of greeters, ushers, or hospitality ministers. In the new liturgical schedules this Fall, we’ve landed ourselves short of “HM’s” at all liturgies. So it gets me thinking. Is this another transitional stage? Do I really need a schedule of people who pass out books when people are perfectly capable of picking up their own? Do I really need individuals to pass out bulletins after liturgy?

As for the collection, we need to take it up, but in one parish I served, a small basket was hat-clipped to one end of eachpew. Parishioners passed that one basket, and the person on the end walked the basket up to the platform, poured the cash and envelopes in, and returned the container to the clip on her or his end of the pew. Little kids loved to walk up the money. And adults, sometimes grudgingly, complied.

So I openly wonder about my scheduling headache: one or two people and the occasional family on a grid that, if we held to our procedures, needs eight people to fill it. And people always step up to assist with the collection. Maybe it’s time to end the pain. If parishioners consistently decline to volunteer for this role, is it time for a sunset?

I could get a volunteer to install those clips on the inside end of each pew. I could assign one volunteer at each Mass to be prepared with a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher, and assorted needs. Maybe we’ve outgrown hospitality ministers. Have you?k

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Sunsets and Other Difficult Transitions

  1. “In part it may have been difficulties recruiting a full team of leaders”

    This, for me, is the primary discernment that it is time for a program to end. I make it clear before starting anything that a program can only start if it has leadership who are compelled to do so (not just filling a gap out of necessity). When leadership isn’t there, it stops.

    When people get upset – which is natural – I communicate our job as a church is not to solve every problem in the community, but to best use to the glory of God the resources He has given us. We do the most good with what we have. It is okay to hurt at the suffering around us and to pray for more workers, but to stretch ourselves too thin in an attempt to do everything is not God-honoring.

    At the same time, I’ve found the “gap” has to be made obvious for new people to step up. If the scheduling gap is always filled (possibly with resentment?) at the last minute, how do others in the body recognize the need is real? If you allowed posts to go unfilled it might upset a few people, but it might cause others to hear and respond to a voice they had been ignoring.

  2. Liam says:

    Gaps are great. Gaps are good. Gaps are necessary. If there are no gaps, there is no space for people to grow into. Certainty (a complete lack of gaps) is the enemy of trust (which is what fills gaps), and trust is the oxygen for love.

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