Went to a listening session at my parish last night although it was actually more than just listening. Like many dioceses across the US, ours is faced with the probability of parishes-without-priests in the next year or so. What makes the situation unique in our diocese—read that to equal the whole state of Wyoming, all 97,000 square miles—is that we only have two cities with more than one parish. Cheyenne and Casper each have three while the rest are scattered across the mountains and plains, typically 100 miles and more between. When one of those outlying towns loses a priest, it’s a long time until they get a new one… if ever. We have many a modern-day circuit preacher driving the roads of rural Wyoming for weekend Masses.
So the purpose of last night’s meeting was to brainstorm what the future might look like with fewer priests in our local community. The intent of the meeting was clear to me. I heard them saying: Hey people! We have a deal here. This is your church… what do you think we should do? Small group discussion gave way to large group idea-proposing. After the allotted hour and a half, I left with more rambling around my brain than I came with. There was some good input from the 30 or so who attended… issues voiced and mediocre solutions offered. But I walked home asking myself: What is the real paradigm shift that needs to happen here? We didn’t even come close to it in this meeting of the minds.
Words came to me later… The people don’t think this is their church. Silly me… I have always assumed it was my church and have therefore given my opinion when it was asked for and even when it wasn’t. But I understand them…we’re skeptical. Last night I wondered: Are they really asking for my thoughts or is this a guise to make me think I have a say when really decisions have already been made? We are right to feel skeptical because many precedents have been set… this has happened before and we’ve been burnt crispy. The people haven’t invested because the hierarchy is always pulling rank. They say they trust the leadership of the people but when push-comes-to-shove… we know who gets to push and who gets shoved.
So I wonder now… can this paradigm shift ever happen? Maybe… but it will require a lot of give-and-take on everyone’s side… a lot. So I have another thing I want to tell you: You are the tour guides not the gatekeepers.
I don’t mean it to sound harsh… just honest and firm. I think strong medicine for both sides is what this paradigm shift will ask of us. We need to step up and answer the call to ministry and you need to let us.
Amendment to the earlier version: Laramie also has more than 1 parish… coming in at 2! Sorry my friends 🙂