EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in an occasional series on how Southern Tier parishes are dealing with challenges brought on by consolidation.
Blending four churches into a single parish can bring about all kinds of changes: reduction of Masses; rescheduling of Mass times; restructuring of budgets, staffs and committees.
As the process deepens, good communication is crucial — which is why leaders of Holy Family Parish convened a town meeting Jan. 25. According to Brian Gregory, parish pastoral-council chairperson, the two-hour meeting was attended by approximately 180 people and accomplished its main purpose, which was to “get rid of rumors.”
“We wanted to get people on the same playing field and say, ‘Here are the facts,'” Gregory said, explaining that some Holy Family parishioners believed significant decisions had already been made by parish administrators and pastoral and finance councils. Instead, he noted, many possibilities still are being studied and community input is strongly encouraged.
The meeting, held on the Wayland-Cohocton Schools campus, began with a presentation by Gregory followed by a question-and-answer session about Holy Family’s future. The parish is made up of St. Pius V Church, Cohocton; Sacred Heart, Perkinsville; St. Joseph, Wayland; and St. Mary, Dansville. All are in northern Steuben County except St. Mary, which is in southern Livingston County.
Gregory said one of the big issues at the meeting concerned aging structures. When Holy Family Parish was formed in 2004, it comprised a total of 16 buildings on the four campuses — churches, offices, halls, garages, and priests’ and sisters’ residences. Several remain underutilized yet continue to incur such expenses as utilities, insurance and repairs, causing a considerable strain on parish finances. To date, the only significant change has been the recent demolition of the former St. Joseph’s School in Wayland.
A number of scenarios were discussed at the Jan. 25 meeting. Gregory said the most popular choice that emerged was to build a new church and parish-center complex, with a potential location near Exit 3 of Interstate 390 at Wayland. Another warmly received possibility was to build a new parish center on the St. Joseph site. Gregory noted that Wayland is the geographic center for all four communities involved. Both these options would involve further reduction of existing buildings.
Gregory acknowledged that a quick sale of these structures is not a given, due to their age and small-town locations. But he said several people at the town meeting offered donations to get a building project off the ground. This, he said, reflects the refusal of attendees to embrace another possibility mentioned — standing pat and doing nothing.
“Nobody opted for the status quo,” Gregory remarked. “We have to do something, and now is the time.”
Much of this call to action was fueled by the parish’s pastoral plan. In 2008, Holy Family will enter a five-year planning period during which the number of active priests available to the parish is expected to drop from two to one. When that occurs, Sunday Mass is to be discontinued at two of the Holy Family worship sites.
The four churches originally clustered in 1998 under the name Holy Family Catholic Community, in order to share their priestly, staff and programming resources. In 2004 another reconfiguration took place when Holy Family became a single parish. This process involved the combining of all staff, finances and parish pastoral councils. In addition, all affected parishes dropped their individual identities: Although each church building is still called by its original name, the parish once represented by that building was formally dissolved.
Future town meetings and bulletin notices are planned as the parish continues to assess its future needs, Gregory said. In the meantime, the inaugural town meeting was strong on togetherness and low on potential turf wars, he said.
“We got thank-you cards and e-mails, saying that we need to do this more often,” Gregory said. “It’s significant to say that all the feedback was positive.”
Father Stephen Karani, Holy Family’s first-year parochial administrator, shared Gregory’s optimism about the meeting.
“In its own humble way, it marked an historical moment in our Holy Family Parish,” Father Karani wrote in his parish bulletin article of Feb. 4, noting that the event “brought out the best of our parish community. I was particularly impressed and highly encouraged by the brave voices of people who are ready to move on and embrace a new kind of ‘church’ and enter a new and bigger community with enthusiasm and courage.”