Us, Them, and the Creation of a Parish Culture

Ten years ago, my diocese created a new parish by merging two parishes that are in the same zip code, but on opposite sides of a state highway.

On the weekend of our no-longer-new parish’s tenth anniversary, which would be commemorated by a parish picnic on Sunday afternoon, the Saturday-evening Mass was celebrated by a beloved former pastor of one of the churches.

He’s retired, and will be helping out occasionally on the weekend (we’re a one-priest parish with two buildings and four Masses each weekend) and holding down the fort in a few weeks when our pastor is scheduled for surgery.

I’m going to say right here and now that this is going to set the creation of our parish culture back, in a big way.

Father F (F stands for Former Pastor) celebrated his first Mass as a weekend assistant at the church he used to lead, decades ago. He was mobbed before and after Mass by people happy to see him again — and that’s fine.

Not so fine, the applause at the beginning AND end of the homily.

Father C (C stands for Current Pastor) has mentioned more than once that there is a definite difference in the cultures at the two churches in our parish. I agree. As a musician, I’m bounced around among Mass times and locations. There’s only one Mass out of four that the folk group doesn’t play, and that’s 8 AM on Sundays.

It feels like we’ve still got competing parish histories, warring allegiances, and there’s still (after ten years) reluctance on the part of many people to cross the highway to attend Mass at the other church.

After ten years, people still identify themselves by the church they used to attend — the one that’s now part of our merged parish, which has a new name. The churches within the parish kept their original names, which makes things complicated but you have to identify places somehow.

After ten years, we have not yet begun to create a new parish culture. We have two separate cultures duking it out in the background of every little thing, from the location of daily Mass to whether parish musicians are volunteers.

Here’s the thing about a merge: you’re going from two lanes to one. You’re not still traveling in separate lanes.

I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the announcement that Father F would be around to help out every now and then until I started hearing people talk about how wonderful it is that he’ll be back.

He’s not here to be in charge; he’ll probably be celebrating one Mass per weekend except when Father C is sick or away. I’m not sure people get that, though. It seemed to me that people were ready to dig his old office chair out of the basement and put his nameplate back on the door.

There was lots of nostalgia, which is nice, but nostalgia is the last thing we need right now.

We’re ten years in. It’s time to invest our hearts in the culture of our new parish. The first ten years have been largely focused on administration — how things would get done, by whom, when, and where. That’s all figured out. And that’s fine for the first year or two — not the first ten (it hasn’t helped that by year 7 we were on our third pastor). I think it’s come at the expense of the spiritual and community life of the parish, which is important too. Without it, there’s going to be nothing to administrate.

It’s nice that we will have a weekend assistant, but I wish the bishop had assigned someone else to the task, someone who doesn’t have a connection to only half the parish. There’s too much emotional baggage involved, and I don’t think this will be a good thing.

We need to find a way to get rid of the idea that we should still be traveling in separate lanes.

Photo by Jenny Bennett (2008) via Flickr; all rights reserved.

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Words Matter

I work with words all day. Whether writing my own or editing someone else’s, I’m aware of the importance of choosing just the right word.

I think my parish may have missed the boat on this one.

The parish was formed in 2007 and formally instituted in 2008, a merger of two churches in the same zip code but on opposite sides of a busy highway.

I don’t know how the nomenclature works in other merged parishes in our diocese and beyond, but in our parish, they’ve been referenced as “the St. Casimir site” and “the Holy Name site.”


They’re churches, not archaeological digs.

Copyright 2007 Temple-Samsung. All rights reserved. Via Flickr.

The term started out when the churches were listed as “worship sites.”

No. Just no.

“Worship” doesn’t even begin to describe what happens at a Catholic Mass.

Lately, I haven’t seen that word pop up in the bulletin or on the parish website, and I’m thankful that the churches are now referred to as churches (or simply as St. Casimir and Holy Name.)

But reference to the two churches as “sites” has become an unfortunate part of the parish lexicon, as evidenced by the early-morning text message I got from a friend today, checking where the vigil Mass for tomorrow’s feast day will be celebrated.

“SC site tonight, right?”

When I mentioned that I knew she didn’t create the term, but saying “site” bugged me, she agreed, and suggested that we use her fourth-grader’s words: “the daytime church” and “the nighttime church” (referring to the Saturday 5 PM Mass.)

I responded, “He says ‘church.’ I like how he thinks.”

It’s the Same Jesus

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. (I Corinthians 12:4-6 via USCCB)

Nearly 7 years ago, our small parish merged with a larger one in the same zip code. The two parishes became one. There are still two churches (which one former pastor referred to as “worship sites,” and I’m thankful that term never really caught on). The office is at one church, and the priests live in the friary at the other one.

A lot of work has been done to help the people from the two parishes worship, work and enjoy life together as one. All in all, I thought we were doing pretty well.

Until this morning.

For nearly 7 years, the daily Masses had been held at the smaller of the two churches, which makes sense from the practical perspective of having to heat or cool a larger building to house at most 50 people for 45 minutes a day. I guess there has been some behind-the-scenes complaining, because two weeks ago it was announced that three days a week, daily Mass would be held at the larger church.

They do have a chapel, and some work was done to spiff it up so that it would be ready for daily Mass.

I liked the idea in some ways, because I can walk to the larger church. Walking is good. Exercise is good. I am Walking With Mary This May as part of author Denise Bossert’s event celebrating the Visitation, so this walk also helps me reach my mileage goal.

So I walked to Mass this morning and found lots of cars in the parking lot and a full chapel, 10 minutes before Mass. The next 10 minutes were spent in a “bucket brigade” of sorts, but with chairs the maintenance man was grabbing from the choir area of the church to create a new front row of chairs in the chapel. As it was, the 90-year-old altar server didn’t have a chair, and he was sort of sitting on the radiator, and he and I played this little game of “chicken” for a bit. I didn’t want him to stand because the guy is 90 and, well, he doesn’t look too healthy. He didn’t want me to stand because he is a gentleman. Finally I let him win.

When Mass was over, I heard many people saying to Father, “Thank you for bringing Mass back here.”

Which is fine.

But there were quite a few people at Mass today who don’t come to daily Mass when it’s at the other church. I don’t know everyone’s name at Mass, but you come to recognize faces and, of course, everyone has their “spot.”

So there were people who came today but who don’t come when Mass is in the other church, two and a half miles away.

OK, I thought. Maybe they walked here, like me.

But I was the only one who left the parking lot on foot.

Meanwhile, there were those three or four people who walk to Mass every day when it’s at the other church. I suspect that some of them don’t drive at all. And now they’re not going to get there.

If you’re driving anyway, why is it such a big deal to drive to the other church? It’s not far away. It’s only 5 more minutes in the car. From my house, I can drive to the small church faster than I can walk to the big church–even if I get stuck at both traffic lights. (And I walked that mile in 12 minutes today).

No matter which church Mass is in, it’s the same Mass. It’s the same Gospel. It’s the same prayers. It’s the same Jesus. It’s the same Eucharist.

That quote from Corinthians, up at the top? May I continue it? “There are different buildings, but the same worship.”

It shouldn’t be all about the territory.

If it is, we’re doing it wrong.