KEUKA PARK — The journey to Emmaus illustrates three distinct sentiments felt by a pair of Jesus’ disciples: sadness at his death; confusion about his reappearance; then joy at the realization of his resurrection. As Father Ed Palumbos and Shannon Loughlin recently noted, parallels can readily be drawn between this passage from the Gospel of Luke and present-day challenges faced by diocesan parishes.
Father Palumbos, pastor of Fairport’s Church of the Assumption, and Loughlin, diocesan director of young adult and campus ministry, used Emmaus as the basis for the address, “Were Not Our Hearts Burning? Developing a Paschal Attitude,” which they delivered during Pastoral Planning Leaders Day Nov. 3 at Keuka College. The diocesan gathering was attended by planning-group and parish pastoral-council members, parish leaders and staff, and campus ministers.
The keynote presentation began with Father Palumbos portraying the concerned voice of the faithful regarding such changes as losing a priest-pastor; facing new Mass times and locations; seeing a distinct community scrambled; and wondering what will become of such unused buildings as rectories. Loughlin played off those comments by emphasizing the message of Emmaus — the need to follow one’s faith in a new and yet hopeful light.
“The two disciples had to die to their expectations of what they thought the Good News was going to be,” Loughlin said.
In the same vein, Father Palumbos urged participants to be adaptable and see the hand of God in a pastoral-planning process, saying that “God’s ways are not always our ways.” He voiced hope that parish representatives, in practicing collaboration with other parishes, “don’t see deferring to others, or compromise, as defeat.” Sometimes, he said, “the greatest hurts of our lives can be the greatest blessings, as it puts us in touch with the hearts of others.”
In a brief address following the keynoters, Bishop Matthew H. Clark cited the need for parishes to have “personal agenda be put to rest and follow the spirit in our lives.” Father Palumbos also challenged each audience member to assess where he or she is on the Emmaus journey — still mourning; seeing the possibilities but not yet embracing them; or moving forward with optimism.
Meanwhile, Loughlin reiterated the importance of maintaining a sense of hope consistent with the paschal, or Easter, season.
“A community that has a paschal attitude is willing to risk, to try something new … being open to the unimaginable,” she said.
A transcript of the keynote address is expected to be posted soon at www.dor.org, the diocesan Web site. The talk apparently hit home with the approximately 125 participants, based on their responses in an ensuing dialogue with the presenters. Comments included thanks for a message that shook them up and caused them to adopt a new outlook; a call for laity to not remain as bystanders; and acknowledgement of the need to continue a spirit of open-mindedness.
“The paschal attitude is the only thing that got us through the pain of closing three churches,” remarked Sue Staropoli, a facilitation-team member of the newly formed St. Monica Parish in Rochester. There, four communities were blended into one when St. Augustine, Our Lady of Good Counsel and Ss. Peter and Paul churches closed in 2006 and their congregations moved to St. Monica.
Pastoral Planning Leaders Day also included workshops on such themes as collaboration between lay and ordained leadership; conducting productive parish pastoral-council meetings; parish youth ministry; young-adult Catholics; tips for parishes embarking on or in the early to middle stages of clustering or consolidation; the roles of parish pastoral councils and finance councils; what can be learned from other Christian churches about urban evangelization; rural ministry; and embracing God during times of change.
The diocesan pastoral-planning process began in the mid-1990s as a means by which parishes share resources in response to the priest shortage and demographic changes.
Father Palumbos acknowledged that even though a small percentage of diocesan parishes — mostly large communities in suburban Rochester, such as his own — have yet to be touched by clustering or consolidation, they, too, must prepare themselves to share programs, staffs and priests. At Church of the Assumption “we’re blessed at the moment,” he said. “But we’re on borrowed time.”