Has it seemed like this year of 2016 is rapidly moving through its course? It is hard to believe that we are midway through the month of May. When I reflect back on these months, I find myself continually filled with gratitude for how God has blessed me, both personally and in ministry. I feel deeply blessed to be where I am at this point in my life. The Lord’s blessings are so near, so constant — as close as the next breath or the next prayer or the next experience of love.
There are and have been many wonderful things happening in the diocese in these recent months. I am very excited about the Diocesan Priority Plan, because it will bring into clearer focus the mission and ministry of the diocese as a whole moving forward into the next few years. I am convinced that as we all embrace this Priority Plan in our lives and ministry, we will tangibly see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in miraculous ways, and many new blessings will be poured out upon us. Yes, new ministry can be work, but the work of God in our midst is always a sight to behold!
We are currently in one of my favorite times of the year. We have found ourselves moving quickly through the month of May already with its many activities. The confirmation season is winding down. What graced moments these have been! It is one of my favorite parts of my ministry as a bishop. So I am looking forward to the last two — Sacred Heart Parish in White River and St. Bridget Parish in Rosebud.
Springtime is a time of change. In my travels, I have been blessed to relish the springtime showing many signs of new life. There is a birthing that has been going on in nature — new calves romping in the fields, the budding of the trees, the blossoming of plants, flowers beginning to don clothes of brilliant colors, the grass beginning to return to its brilliance of green; all these things give us a sense that the miracle of new life is taking place. What a blessing to experience this all around us when we take notice — another way of God showering his love upon us.
Springtime is a time of change in other ways as well. As you will notice from an article in this paper, there will be a reconfiguration of the parishes in the northern part of the diocese in Harding, Perkins and Corson counties. I am deeply grateful for tremendous work accomplished by the group of people, clergy and lay leaders alike, from various parishes in those counties. Over the past fifteen months, they have been gathering for prayer, reflection and discussion, assessing the pastoral needs in the northern parishes and developing ways to refresh the vision of ministry.
This group developed benchmarks for “Healthy and Holy Parishes.” In other words, as we look at the life of a parish and how the church defines a healthy and holy parish, what are the required ministries which comprise such a parish and make it fully alive with the Gospel? This committee carefully evaluated the current ministry in each parish and has offered clear advice on how best to move forward in providing ministry with one less priest in those counties. Their findings and conclusions revealed the need to reconfigure the parishes in that area of the diocese.
I am very appreciative of the time and stewardship of this committee and the wonderful work which was accomplished.
It is my hope that parishioners who are affected by these changes will find a new faith community, a new place to call home, where they will discover a warm welcome and experience a vibrant parish where the liturgy is celebrated well, hospitality is strong, lifelong faith formation is present, and opportunities for social outreach are offered.
This is also the time of the year when the changes in clergy assignments are announced. One of the most important and challenging efforts of my ministry is the assignment of priests to parishes. I am deeply grateful to the Consultors who provide important assistance in this lengthy decision making process. My deepest thanks and gratitude also go out to the priests who, for the greater good of the diocese, agreed to take a different assignment before their terms were completed. I am deeply grateful for their generosity in putting the needs of the diocese ahead of their own.
I know that people love their priests and it is hard to see them leave as they reflect upon the impact the priests have made in their lives. Those feelings are the challenging part of God’s blessings which I noted earlier. Pastoral decisions are sometimes very difficult to make, knowing the impact on the faith communities involved. They will never please everyone, but must be made for the overall good of the diocese given the resources we currently have, with an eye toward the future.
It is important to consider that our priests have many and varied gifts. Change in pastoral leadership allows the parish to benefit from the gifts that their new priest offers. At the same time, priests grow from the gifts they receive from each community in which they minister. This exchange of gifts helps us to grow in understanding of the faith and to connect with other parishes as a diocese.
I ask that you please keep the priests and these other changes in your prayers for a smooth and peaceful transition. Again, there are many wonderful things happening in our diocese, but it will be prayer that will sustain them. Be assured of my continued prayers for you and your family as well. May the peace poured out upon us at Pentecost awaken our hearts anew for work of the Gospel in our diocese. Wishing each of you much peace and joy in Christ.