If its inaugural event is any indication, a newly formed parish configuration in Tompkins County has a promising future.
Save for a few drops of rain early on, all went quite smoothly for the first Mass celebrating the clustering of All Saints Parish in Lansing, St. Anthony in Groton and Holy Cross in Dryden. The outdoor liturgy and ensuing picnic took place Sunday, June 12, at Myers Town Park in Lansing.
“It did not start raining until everyone was packing up to leave. For weeks I had been praying for no rain,” remarked Father Scott Kubinski, pastor of the new cluster.
He estimated that more than 400 people attended the festivities, with solid representation from all three parishes. It was the product of combined efforts in planning as well as in liturgical roles, such as a blended choir.
The cluster took effect in late June. This configuration model involves the combination of priestly, staff and programming resources, and is typified by one full-time priest serving two or more parishes.
Holy Cross and St. Anthony have shared a pastor since 1998. All Saints has been grouped with those two parishes as a result of decisions the Tompkins Planning Group made based on diocesan projections about the future availability of priests. Other faith communities in the Tompkins group are Immaculate Conception and St. Catherine of Siena in Ithaca, and the campus ministries of Ithaca College and Cornell University.
Father Kubinski was parochial administrator for All Saints, Holy Cross and St. Anthony this past year, while also serving as part-time chaplain at Ithaca College. With his appointment as pastor, he has been relieved of chaplaincy duties, but also lost the assistance of two extern priests, Father Bernard Munjalu and Father Peter Abue. As a result, the 5:30 p.m. Mass at All Saints has been eliminated, and another Saturday Mass may be dropped at St. Anthony or Holy Cross. The churches’ weekday Mass schedules also have been reduced, but Father Kubinski said sacramental coverage has been promised by the Diocese of Rochester so that Sunday-Mass schedules can remain unchanged.
Father Kubinski said no other significant changes are planned in terms of staff size or programming. Still, he acknowledged, the transition into a cluster can be difficult for some.
“It’s a mixture — it depends on who you talk to. A lot of people are hopeful about sharing resources. There are some people who are fearful — (asking), ‘Does this mean our church is going to close?’ You just don’t know how all this is going to play out,” he said.
Karen Rinefierd, diocesan pastoral-planning liaison for the Tompkins Planning Group, said an adjustment period is to be expected when individual parishes begin a formal affiliation with each other.
“There’s always that balance of maintaining that unique identity and building a common identity,” she said.
However, Father Kubinski said he was encouraged by the collaborative attitude evident at the June 12 celebration.
“The cooperation was very good. People seemed very pleased with the whole event; it all came together very well. There were a number of comments that we should do it again next year,” said the priest, who concelebrated the outdoor Mass with Fathers Munjalu and Abue.
Rinefierd noted that All Saints, Holy Cross and St. Anthony have laid solid groundwork for the cluster by taking part in recent years in joint sacramental programs and youth events. She also credited Father Kubinski — who had served at All Saints and Ithaca College since 2000 before adding duties at Holy Cross and St. Anthony last year — saying that “he’s done an amazing job.”
Tompkins’ pastoral plan eventually calls for the three parishes to consolidate into a single parish, in which all staff, finances and parish pastoral councils would be shared. A new parish name would be established, but all church buildings would retain their original names.
This model of a single parish with multiple worship sites was introduced in the diocese in 1999, when six parishes in southern Cayuga County formed Good Shepherd Parish. The process since has been repeated in many parts of the Southern Tier, where a total of 18 parishes combined into four: All Saints Parish in Corning-Painted Post in 2001; Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County in 2003; Our Lady of the Valley Parish in western Steuben County in 2004; and Holy Family Parish in northern Steuben/southern Livingston counties, also in 2004.
These moves reflect diocesan efforts to keep parishes vibrant in the face of a growing priest shortage. A look across the Southern Tier shows that the great majority of Catholic churches are served by a pastoral leader overseeing two or more churches.