Pastor’s Perspective – Christmas/December 27th

* Christmas 2020

This Christmas season we find ourselves still at the mercy of the pandemic and its consequences. In many ways it captures fully the heartbreak yet hope, discouragement yet perseverance, sadness at so many losses yet still a yearning to find joy, and so much more of what it means to be human in this time and place. What difference does it make that we celebrate a feast that proclaims that God, through the divine Word, has entered into the midst of humanity, uniting human history to God’s story? It makes all the difference in the world! All that it means to be human and everything that humanity experiences is not separate from God. God has revealed Godself, not like in the Greek or Roman mythic stories where the gods whimsically interfere in human history, but as one who so desires us to freely share in his love that God has tied God’s own life to humanity in a way that cannot be broken.

The pandemic is a stark reminder that we do not have the kind of control of our lives that we think we do. It is a tragic reminder that death and suffering are real. It is a hopeful reminder of the tremendous ways we can respond in care for one another and of the human capacity to create new vaccines and overcome obstacles. Because we know through faith the certainty that God has become one with us, the Christmas season is always an invitation to celebrate the gift of our humanity, no matter the challenges and the struggles. Like many, my family will not be gathering in person this Christmas. My parents are in an independent senior living place that has been locked down for much of this pandemic. We have not gathered as a family for more than nine months which has been difficult. Yet, through online Zoom meetings we manage to maintain contact, conversation, and a shared sense of family in a way that has been a tremendous blessing. I know for me this is a Christmas in which I will reflect more deeply on so much that I otherwise take for granted and see the people in my life and my interactions with them as the gifts they are.

May the gifts of Mary’s faith, of Joseph’s faithfulness, and of the magi’s perseverance help us to experience this Christmas and Epiphany season with renewed wonder and joy at God’s Word become flesh. May God plant within us a peace and joy that touch deeper than the daily worries and problems of life. May we in turn allow that Word to bring forth in us great courage and hope.

I want to thank you, our parishioners, for your generosity that allows the parish staff, myself included, to use our gifts and talents in the service of Jesus. We all enjoy and appreciate being with and serving you. It is a privilege to work with you in helping St. Regis Parish live out the mission and ministry of Jesus. May God be with you and bless you always.

*Family of Parishes (continued)

By now most of us have heard about the re-structuring of parish ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit, using a model called “Family of Parishes,” in which three or more parishes are grouped together in order to share the priests who are assigned to the parishes. We are grouped with St. Owen, Holy Name, and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, and our family identity will officially begin in the summer of 2022. The theological impetus for this change is the need to re-think parish ministry in a way that makes everything we do mission oriented. Except for a few very large parishes, most parishes do not have the resources to carry out that mission in as full a way as possible, and so we will benefit from doing it together with neighboring parishes. Instead of being in a type of competition with each other, we can become intentionally and fully collaborative. This will mean a re-structuring eventually of Mass times, faith formation, Christian service outreach and much more. The mission? To share the good news of Jesus Christ; to be a sacramental sign of the Lord’s presence; to invite people into that journey of joyful missionary discipleship and surround them with the tools to maintain that journey. Whatever structures are best for the mission are the structures that will be used, rather than trying to maintain existing arrangements for their own sake.

To be very clear: the goal is not to merge all the parishes into one. The goal is for each parish to maintain its independent identity and to strengthen its unique gifts. The heritage and legacy of St. Regis will still be the parish’s responsibility. Financial resources will not be shared by the family but belong to each parish independently. Our assets and debts are ours. Our endowments are ours. Any building projects or renovation projects will have to come from our resources. Within a family we can focus on what is important to St. Regis and share it with the rest of the family (Adoration? School? South Oakland Shelter? Online Faith Formation? Musical Concerts? Prayer Teams? Many other things?). In turn we can benefit from the strengths of the parishes around us because we are all in the same family and trying to be as collaborative as possible. The ongoing, bottom-line question will always be: how do we invite one another to a radical trust in the Lord, even if it means a number of changes at the parish level?

If the theological impetus for the re-structuring into families is the need to be more mission-oriented, the practical impetus for the re-structuring is the number of priests available for parish ministry. Here is what Archbishop Vigneron wrote to us as priests two weeks ago, announcing a new look to the Office for Priestly Vocations:

“What is the actual situation today? What is our priest-to-parish ratio? How are these numbers projected to change in the future? The Archdiocese of Detroit currently has 249 priests serving in 216 parishes. Of those 249 priests, 207 are diocesan priests and 42 belong to religious orders. There are 189 priests serving as either pastors or administrators, while 51 serve as associate pastors. The average age of our parish priests is just over 56.6 years old. Nineteen priests are over the age of 75 today. Our best projection for the situation ten years from now serves as a significant and dire warning. If we continue these trends, we can estimate that in 2030 we will have 172 priests serving full-time in our parishes.”

In other words, there is no way to maintain the current structure of parish priestly ministry, given the numbers of priests available. Yes, we have to encourage vocations, but it would be irresponsible to not adjust to the facts at hand.  And the facts are quite stark. This means that we either continue to combine and merge parishes so that there are fewer parishes to administer and pastor, or we find a new way to structure priestly ministry in parishes. The Family of Parishes model is an attempt to find that new way. We will start with 249 priests in 216 parishes, but who now will be grouped into 51 families, which should allow for more collaboration among priests, rather than doing it most often alone.

Under the Family model the following is envisioned. 1) All priests assigned to any of the parishes would be assigned to the whole family. 2) The family of parishes, over time, would decide which is the best fit for them: to have one pastor for all the parishes, assisted by one or more associate pastors, or to have multiple pastors who collaboratively pastor all the parishes together. 3) If multiple pastors (called the in solidum model), then those pastors would be assigned as pastors not just of one parish in the family but of every parish in the family. One of the pastors would be designated as the Moderator-Pastor. Where necessary, that Moderator would have final say on any administrative decisions made by any of the parishes in the family. 4) All the priests in the family would agree to some type of collaborative, shared ministry through what is being called a “covenant.” In that covenant they would designate how they are sharing ministry; how and when they will come together in prayer; how and when they will eat and meet together; and what their living arrangements will be (in multiple residences or shared living). 5) Over time it is understood that there will ordinarily be fewer priests in the family than the number of parishes being served in order to be able to handle the projected diminishment of priests in the future.

Because we are still eighteen months away from being a family together, it is still too early to say exactly how priestly ministry will be structured in our particular family. Currently we have four parishes, each with a pastor, and no associate pastors. If that remains the case when we enter into our family structure, then each of us will be designated as pastor of all four parishes in the family. If there are only three pastors available (due to retirement or the need for one of us to be assigned elsewhere), then those three priests will be named as pastors of all four parishes. One of the priests in the group will be named as the Moderator, responsible for guiding the whole process of coming together in collaboration. Over time, either the family will decide it is best to have just one pastor for all four parishes, assisted by one or two associate pastors, or the family will decide to maintain the multiple pastor (in solidum) model, in which case there might be two pastors and one associate or three pastors and no associates. Nothing is pre-determined. It will be a work in progress.

In the Family model priests are no longer tied to just one parish but will be asked to have a priestly care for all the parishes equally. This will lead to an adjustment in the Mass and sacramental schedules to reflect that reality in a way that encourages priests to have a presence in all the parishes. Again, that will have to evolve. Nothing is pre-determined. And, because there is so much to be developed, I do not want to overthink what might happen. I simply want to convey a sense of the significant nature of what the Archbishop is undertaking, and the real challenge it will be for priests to adjust how they think of parish ministry, being a pastor, and being of priestly service to their people.

*Parish Leadership Night January 12th

An overview of the Family of Parishes model will be given at our next Leadership Night on Tuesday, January 12th. This will be a Zoom meeting. It is open to all parish members and is a good way to see what is happening in the various areas of parish life. Please register online at stregis.org; click on “Events” and find the January 12th meeting.

Fr. Buersmeyer

Additional / Related Content