As we enter into a multi-parish ministry setting, we have to recognize the history of the parishes we are working with. Most of our parishes have worked autonomously over the life of that community. Meaning, we knew of our neighboring Catholic parishes across town, but we never interacted with them much. Now, as we begin to move into these multi-parish boundaries, we are discovering that each of them has their own history and identity.
Recognizing and understanding parish history and identity is important. Perhaps you are in a situation where there was a parish closure or a mandated clustering of parish ministries in your diocese. Maybe you are one of the many parishes that are choosing to work together in one or more ministries. In any case, recognizing that a parish has its own way of being community is an important piece to study as we begin our multi-parish ministry. As coordinators, you represent the change or the loss of identity because you facilitate this multi-parish youth ministry effort. We must allow our parishes to grieve any perceived or actual loss due to this change. What is seemingly an attack on you is not really an attack at all, but a grieving process. Name it for what it is, and then let it go. Now, do what you can to help them heal.
Six Steps to Healing
- Give it time. People will not and cannot accept change right away. Accept the fact that change is hard for most people, unless they are the ones initiating the change.
- Be present. When you first start, it will be important to show your face at each parish community you serve. Show your face often. This can be very time consuming trying to get to all the parish masses and major events, but create a schedule for yourself to make it happen. The more people get to know you as a person, the more comfortable they will be with the idea of a multi-parish youth ministry, and in turn, the more comfortable they will be in changing the way they think about their parish community. The time will be worth it. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll encourage their teenagers to get involved.
- Youth interviews. Have the youth interview people from the different parish identities to find out about its history, style of liturgy, and community. Those that are being interviewed will appreciate the time and the young people will learn what makes each parish tick.
- Communicate. Communicate often and openly. Let the parish communities clearly know what you and your team are doing in youth ministry. Let them contact you directly, via email or phone, if they have comments, questions, or thoughts. Better yet, have the young people themselves communicate what is being done in youth ministry. The more people see and hear about the fruits of the work of youth ministry, the more this will help them heal. When they find out the change is for the better, they will begin to heal.
- Pastor support. Meet with all the pastors and parish staff that are involved. Work hard to receive their support. This is about building relationships. The more the pastor and parish staff know you and trust you, the more likely they are to not only show their support with their words, but with their presence.
- Give it time. It’s worth repeating twice.
You and I can only do so much to help people heal for change. Ultimately, though, the Spirit needs to do its thing. So be patient. Let people grieve the change. And do what you do best: leading and serving the young people in our parishes.