When pastors are reassigned, it’s dying and rising

Fr. Craig Cower has often told pastors that moving to a new parish is, in a real way, a participation in the Paschal Mystery. When a pastor is told he is being reassigned, he must die to the hopes and dreams and plans he had for the parish he is serving. He must say good-bye to many of the people to whom he has drawn close.

When he first moves to the new parish and is unfamiliar with the routines, doesn’t know the parishioners or the community, he is, in some respects, in the tomb. After some time, when he has had the opportunity to serve those in need, minister to families in times of tragedy, and build trust with his new parish, he begins to build hopes and dreams in this new place; he experiences resurrection.

Right now your new pastor is in the tomb. Continuing to welcome him throughout his first year can help him rise perhaps sooner than later. Last month, we shared ways we could assist new pastors. With school starting soon, here are a couple ideas to continue welcoming your new pastor:

Show him where the school is and point out where the school activities and athletic events take place. What door do you use to get into basketball games or school concerts? Tell him what the school mascot is, what the school colors are, on which side of the field or court the home crowd sits. Don’t just give him the sports schedule, invite him to come with you to the high school football game. Introduce him to other parishioners while you are there.

Get at least seven families to invite him to something seven times over the course of 18 months or so.

Ask him his thoughts and aspirations concerning faith formation. What is his vision and how can you help make it a reality?

There are also ways we can “help” our former pastor to die to our parish so he can rise from the tomb in his new parish. The first thing is to let the past be the past and not succumb to the temptation to keep comparing the old with the new, as we mentioned last month.

Second, one woman I knew many years ago shared this idea with me: Whenever her pastor was reassigned, she gave him a few postcards which were addressed to her and stamped. She invited him to send her one of these cards whenever he was in need of prayer. He needn’t write anything on the card, she said. When she received it, she would know to pray for him.

Third, it is often tempting to ask an old pastor back for funerals or in other times of need. This is understandable because often there is a relationship and trust built up over many years with him. However, ministering to people in need is one of the primary ways the new pastor builds relationships with his parish. Allow him this time and this opportunity to minister to his people.

Conflicts often arise in times of change. This is a good time to reflect on how we, as disciples of Jesus, are called to respond to conflict. When a new (or old) pastor does or says something with which we disagree, offends us or makes us angry, it is tempting to vent to friends, neighbors or family members. It is more fruitful, though, to take our problem to the one who can truly help us. Go instead to Jesus, present in the tabernacle, and share honestly with him your anger, hurt, disappointment, thoughts and feelings. Ask him how you should proceed, what you should say and with whom, if anyone, you should speak.

If, after this time with the Lord, you still feel you should say something, go to the pastor. “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (Mt 18:15). Pray for the right words said in the right tone and at the right time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that we are to “interpret insofar as possible our neighbor’s thoughts, words and deeds in a favorable way” (CCC 2478). Work toward genuine understanding and reconciliation. If the matter is grave and not resolved with the pastor, then it is appropriate to bring it to the bishop’s attention with trust that, despite the outcome, we have done our part.

Significant transitions can be difficult, but they are also an opportunity to grow as disciples of Christ, to practice humility, charity and genuine hospitality as we read in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rv 21:5) and Jn 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life.”

(Fr. Tim Hoag co-wrote this month’s column.)