July 13, 2018
I am writing to give you an update regarding the current status of our plans to run a capital campaign and build a new church for Immaculate Conception parish. I would like to start by thanking all of you for making me feel so welcome here. I am impressed by your kindness and the many ways you have reached out to me as the “new priest.” I’m also impressed by the love you have for Immaculate Conception parish, which was obvious to me from the day I arrived.
But I would also like to share with you some concerns I have as a brand new pastor, not simply new to the parish, but new to the role. After conferring with various representatives of the Archdiocese, including Archbishop Carlson and Bishop Rivituso, and after meeting with members of our parish council, finance council, and our new church committees, I have a request I would like to make. That request is for time. It normally takes at least a year for a pastor to get to know a parish, and for the people to get to know him. Added to that is my own need to learn the basics of being a pastor. To attempt to run a capital campaign and to move forward with building a new church this next year would prevent me from truly getting to know you, for those two projects would be all-consuming. Many other things I need to learn would most likely fall through the cracks, and no amount of committee work could make up for that.
A question then arises…if we put our plans on hold, for how long would that be? The proposal I made when I met with our parish leadership was to wait until the appointment of a new Archbishop. Archbishop Carlson will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 in June of 2019, which is less than a year away. The normal process that follows is that an archdiocesan administrator would be appointed to run the Archdiocese until a new Archbishop is selected. (That usually takes several more months.) So the timeline we are looking at would be roughly a year and a half, although it is impossible to know with certainty, since the Vatican moves at its own pace.
Aside from my own need for time to get to know the parish, the reason why I am asking to wait until we have a new Archbishop is because until that happens, we have no way of knowing what the pastoral plan for this region will be regarding parishes and the appointment of priests to serve them. To give you an idea of why this is so important, I would like to share with you two examples.
This year, the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced that it is going from 188 parishes to 57 parishes (a reduction of two-thirds). Last year, the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut announced it was going from 212 to 127 parishes (a reduction of forty percent). That is not to suggest that anything so dramatic will happen here in Saint Louis, and I want to be quick to point out that there are no current plans to merge Immaculate Conception with any other parish in this region. What is clear is that there is a need for pastoral planning and that throughout the Archdiocese, there will be restructuring. It will certainly affect this region, but until we have a new Archbishop, there is no way to know what that will look like.
A second concern that must be considered is the number of available priests for ministry in this region. Upcoming years will see a significant number of priest retirements, and while we are blessed with ordinations, they will not make up for the retirements. (This year we ordained two new priests.) The day is coming when we will be fortunate if there is one full-time priest for the city of Arnold. An even more possible scenario would be one priest ministering in a multi-parish situation, which would mean a reduction of Sunday Masses at the Immaculate Conception site. Should we build a new church, that possibility would have to be considered, since the size of the new church would be affected if there were only one or two Masses offered here on a weekend.
None of this is meant to scare you. It is simply to make the case for the importance of waiting for a new Archbishop to be appointed and to allow for pastoral planning to occur before we move forward. We need to know if our current parishioners will be building a new church, or whether it will be a larger group. (Should it be a larger group, they would need to be part of the planning process.) We also need to know what kind of church we are building, and how large it should be. Finally, we need to know whether or not we should even move forward with building a new church, or whether other options should be considered. We will not have the answers to those questions until we have a new Archbishop, and to move forward at this point could lead to us tapping out our parishioners financially only to discover that what we are building is too small, or not part of the larger pastoral plan for the region. And we have to accept that in the end, we are not the ones who make the final decision.
Understandably, if we put our plans on hold, certain questions arise:
- Is the current church safe for use, and what happens when it is no longer safe?
Our church is inspected on a regular basis, and currently, it is safe for use. For the safety and reassurance of our parishioners, we can increase the number of inspections or expand the number of consultants. But for now, the church is safe, and at whatever point it is no longer safe, we will no longer use it. We have a contingency plan in place, which is to hold liturgies in the parish center. While that is not a desirable scenario, many other parishes have successfully celebrated beautiful liturgies in alternate spaces, sometimes for years, when their church was damaged or destroyed. The strength of a parish community is shown by how well it weathers such situations.
- What about the work already completed in the planning process?
Nothing has been lost. The parish contracted with Dan Reynolds of Holmes, Radford and Avalon to be our consultant on the capital campaign. Dan has assured us that he will honor our contract and investment for however long we are delayed. The work that has generously been done by our various new church committees is also not lost, although at whatever point we move forward, some of it might have to be adjusted based on Archdiocesan regional pastoral planning.
- What do we do in the meantime?
We simply focus on building up our own parish, continuing to form relationships with neighboring parishes, and strengthening our relationship with Christ and one another. For the present time, the committees connected to building a new church will go into hibernation, although we can convene them whenever a situation arises that demands it.
I know that this is a major shift in plans, and I am aware that this is not the first time it has happened. But I believe that what I have presented to you is the best way to move forward at this time. Nothing is lost by waiting, but a lot could be compromised if we move forward without all of the pieces in place. It is never comfortable to be in a situation where there are a number of unknowns, and that is our current situation. Fortunately, it won’t last forever. And in the meantime, we don’t stand still. We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the ability to build up the Body of Christ, which is our main concern as a parish. Please know that you are in my prayers, and I look forward to continuing to get to know you as your pastor.