St. Michael Parish in Lyons recently merged with St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick Parish in Savannah to form the new St. Joseph the Worker Parish.
March 30 marked the culmination of the amalgamation process, which took more than five years. Although some parishioners originally had balked at the idea of joining with parishioners from neighboring towns, by 2012 they seemed to be ready to come together as one, noted Roger Clark, chair of St. Joseph the Worker’s pastoral council.
"People were just to the point of saying, ‘Let’s get this done.’ At that point you know the people are ready," Clark said.
"I think they expected this and they knew it was coming, so they are not very negative," agreed the parish’s pastor, Father Augustine Chumo.
The Clyde, Savannah and Lyons parishes combined to form a cluster in June 2007, but there had been talk of a merger for several years before that, he added. After clustering, the parishes shared a pastoral leader and a bulletin, and their pastoral councils merged, as did their finance councils. Members of the joint pastoral council educated parishioners about the unification process and what it entailed, and provided opportunities for members of the three parishes to come together. One memorable occasion was a Mass with Bishop Matthew H. Clark in a cleaned-up barn in Savannah, Clark recalled.
"That was one of the things that really brought people together. We tried to combine the annual picnics the three churches had. We got the word out to people," he said.
The process was long and tedious, but it bore good fruit, he said, noting that many parishioners now agree that merging was the best option for all three parishes.
"It may have taken some time, but it’s the best thing for us in the long run," he said.
Although St. Joseph the Worker technically is a new parish, most parishioners won’t notice too many changes in the way it operates, Father Chumo said. The Mass schedule was adjusted when the former parishes clustered, and the faith-formation programs and many parish ministries also have been combined over the past few years.
"We will change slightly some ministries that will reflect the nature of the new configuration," Father Chumo said, citing the parish’s visitation ministry as an example.
In the past members of that ministry had visited elderly or hospitalized individuals from their own churches, but future assignments for visitation ministers will be based on their geographic locations, rather than their former parish affiliations, he said. Father Chumo also is studying the parish’s staffing, and may make changes to ensure that the staff reflects the parish’s changing needs and is as efficient as possible.
Parishioners were kept informed throughout the process by means of neighborhood gatherings and town-hall meetings, including one at which they were asked to suggest potential names for their new parish. After eliminating the names already used by other diocesan parishes, the parish then submitted the rest of those suggestions to the diocese. Parishioners eventually learned that Bishop Clark had chosen St. Joseph the Worker, a choice with which they seem pleased, Father Chumo said.
"You can’t go wrong with St. Joseph," he said. "People here are family-oriented and they look at St. Joseph as a father figure who takes care of families."
Parishioners seem comfortable with the new parish and its name, Father Chumo said, but the parish still faces several significant challenges, including an aging population.
"We have so many funerals and very few baptisms, and that really is a big challenge," he said. "Another big challenge is the geographic region is so wide."
Fifteen miles separate the Lyons and Savannah churches, and parishioners may live as many as nine miles from the nearest church, Father Chumo said. This means parishioners might live more than 20 miles from a worship site. In addition, they may be separated from each other by more than 30 miles, which can make it difficult to forge intimate connections with one another, he added.
Nonetheless, Father Chumo said he believes parishioners are well-poised to take on any challenges they face.
"It is a loving community. People live their faith," he said.
Parishioners also have realized that banding together will only help them live out that faith in the future, Clark added.
"I know we’re going to be a lot stronger than we were without each other, stronger as a parish," he said.