I want to thank, first of all, Almighty God, who has brought us through this difficult time during the pandemic. We continue to pray for a vaccine and peace in our hearts. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God…” (Romans 8:39)
Despite all of the challenges we have faced as a parish this year, we continue to reach out. In the beginning when public liturgies were cancelled, we live-streamed all our Masses, our staff shared on line throughout this time, I came on line several times trying to keep everyone updates, we blessed the village of Fowler on Easter Sunday and finally celebrated First Communion at an outside Mass in August. Our collections have stayed pretty steady and we were blessed with government assistance this spring which helped us to keep all our parish staff employed.
This past year we celebrated 39 baptisms, 36 First Communions, 37 Confirmations, 7 weddings, and 22 burials.
We have included some financial figures with this report, which you will find attached to the bulletin.
I also want to share with you some news from our Diocese. Over the past 8 years our Diocese has been gathering, praying and discussing how we can better evangelize the fallen away, and those in our communities who do not know the Lord. You might have participated in the three Assemblies the Diocese sponsored: Assembly #1: The Household of Faith, which focused on parishioners and how we can better reach out and evangelize those already coming to Church. Assembly #2: The Lost Sheep, which focused on how we as parishes could better reach out to the fallen away Catholics, and Assembly #3: The Court of the Gentiles. How we can dialogue and bring the Gospel into the wider world.
Over the past three years, the bishop and priests have been discussing how we can more effectively use our priest, deacons and lay leaders given the situation that our Diocese is facing; a decreasing number of clergy, financial challenges, and an aggressive secular culture.
On October 1st the bishop and the priests gathered together to discuss the next phase of this plan. Let me say first, we are just in the discussing and discerning phase. But we are looking at a major restructuring of our parishes and our ministries.
Over the past number of years, many diocese have had to deal with a culture that is becoming increasingly anti-Catholic and anti- God, priestly retirements, declining vocations, limited resources, Catholics who claim to belong to parishes but are not financially supporting them, fallout from the abuse scandal, and a growing exodus from the Church. Many dioceses have closed parishes, clustered or merged, but these actions have cause a lot of pain to the faithful, and added to the exhaustion of priests. The truth is, many of these “solutions” have not addressed the real problem. The COVID-19 pandemic has in many ways only ramped up this reality.
The Church historian, Christopher Dawson wrote: “During the last two centuries the human race has experienced the greatest changes that it has know since the beginnings of history.”
St. Augustine wrote that Christianity is “ever ancient and ever new.” That means that the Church can always rely on her ancient tradition and teaching, but it also means that we must change and adapt so that the Gospel can be preached with fresh eyes and imagination. More and more, the church is realizing that the parish model is broken and unworkable with the challenges that face us and that we need to look at a new model.
Our Diocese doesn’t want to follow the pattern of many other dioceses that are simply closing parishes as their response. But what we envision is a parish where several priests live together and work together, each priest able to use his gifts and charisms. Priests would not be faced with the loneliness, frustration and discouragement. Having enough resources that we could move form just maintaining parishes to where we could become a missionary, evangelizing, life-giving community. The faithful would experience greater availability of the sacraments and pastoral care. And most importantly, we would be equipped to bring the Gospel into our culture. We see all of this impacting our Catholic schools as well.
Now all this is not going to happen tomorrow. The priests and the bishop are in a process of discussing and discerning where the Lord is leading us.
I will keep you updated as to where we are at in the process. Please pray for your priests and for our Diocese. God bless, Fr. Dennis