Q WHY IS THIS PARISH TRANSITION PROJECT NECESSARY?
A The status quo regarding parish life in the 235 current parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark is no longer sustainable. A Task Force was commissioned to study parish life throughout the four-county area in 2002. In the final report provided to Archbishop Myers in 2003, the Task Force stated:
"At this moment in time the above recommendations are an effort to address immediate difficult situations. . . The Task Force has come to the realization that each recommendation is difficult. Each new direction impacts many individuals with emotional ties to an established structure. The Task Force also sees the need to exercise stewardship with the limited resources that are available to the parish and the Archdiocese. It is in light of what a parish is called to be in this particular geographic area and in recognition of limited resources that the Task Force makes its recommendations."
In announcing the beginning of a process of conversation and decision-making moving toward implementation by all ministers and parishioners impacted by the proposed realignment of parishes, the Archbishop emphasized that no final decisions have been made on any of the recommendations of the Task Force.
Archbishop Myers has stated:
We approach these recommendations with a high degree of sensitivity to the cultural identity of each parish and its parishioners. In addition, we must be concerned most of all with the spiritual health and vitality of each parish as outlined by the 28 Principles. I believe that in order to grow and thrive, some parishes will need to merge or link with others for the sake of the spiritual health of the people, and so that we can realize our mission as a Church more effectively.
As good stewards, we have an obligation to search out and implement the best options for parish organization consistent with these realities and the needs of our Catholic people.
Q WHAT ARE THE GOALS FOR THIS PARISH TRANSITION PROJECT?
A The New Energies Parish Transition Project for the Archdiocese of Newark is inspired by the following six goals.
To enhance quality parish life, both territorial and national, throughout the Archdiocese.
To support increased understanding of and action on the 28 principles related to quality parish life in the areas of Spiritual Life, Educational & Formational Life, Service Life, Parish Community Life, Administrative Life, and Pastoral Life;
To strengthen the presence and ministry of the Church in urban and suburban areas;
To increase collaboration between and among leaders, parishes and the whole Archdiocese of Newark;
To act as good stewards of all human, financial and facility resources;
To build a greater sense of unity within the rich ethnic, cultural and age diversity present within the local Church.
The achievement of these desired outcomes will result in significant “new energies” within the Archdiocese of Newark as well as in the capacity of Catholic parishes and individual Catholics to move forward more confidently into the future.
Q HOW WERE THESE PARISHES SELECTED?
A The Task Force identified parishes from all four counties as meeting one or more of the following criteria:
28 Parish Principles which examine viability of a parish;
Proximity of parishes to each other;
Weekend liturgies with total attendance of 500 or fewer parishioners;
Poor fiscal condition of the parish;
Decreasing number of priests;
Aging facilities requiring capital improvements;
Total population of parish community decreasing;
Stewardship of Archdiocesan resources (personnel, property, finances).
Q WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE MODELS FOR PARISH ORGANIZATION?
A There are four main configurations being considered at present. These are:
a. Single Parish --
The most familiar form of parish organization is the single parish concept. Most parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark fall into this category. A single parish is one that is separate and independent, not linked or clustered with another parish. It has its own pastor who is not responsible for any other parish. This form of parish organization may not be possible in all situations in the future. Other forms of parish organization will become more common and are already being used in dioceses throughout the country.
b. Linked Parishes --
Two or possibly three parishes which share the same pastor are an example of linking. The parishes remain separately incorporated and are separate communities of faith. If it would help the pastor in the administration of the parishes or if it would benefit the faith communities themselves, the parishes might initiate some cooperative efforts. This model is very demanding on the priest unless he is assisted by others.
c. Clustered Parishes --
A cluster usually consists of three or four parishes which share a pastor and staff and work together in some areas of parish ministry. The parishes forming the cluster remain separately incorporated but are yoked for joint efforts. Clustering requires as much joint activity as is necessary to achieve true parish viability. This may include a joint school and religious education program, cooperative social ministry and special programs, and, perhaps, even joint councils. It becomes possible, with a common staff who serve all the parishes and provide programs otherwise unavailable to parishes, because of inadequate funds or insufficient numbers of people. This model could serve as a step toward the consolidation or merging of parishes.
d. Merged Parishes –
A merger takes place when two or more parishes join together to form a new parish corporation. The new parish corporation, usually with a new name, obtains the assets as well as the liabilities of the parishes which formed it. A merger may center all parish activities at one site, or continue to use two or more building sites.
A merger may happen quickly or, more often, will be accomplished in stages which allow the communities to work together and to share staff and programs prior to forming a single community. The more experiences of Christian community, religious and social, that those involved experience; the easier it is to overcome boundaries and divisions.
Mergers create a new parish configuration which is able to provide many more activities and opportunities than the original parishes could have managed on their own. The merger process allows parishes to join forces to form a larger, more vibrant worshiping community, reduce overhead, and better use resources. When done sensitively and cooperatively the merging of parishes will ordinarily create a more viable parish situation.
Q WHY WEREN’T WE ASKED FOR FEEDBACK BEFORE THESE RECOMMENDATIONS WERE DEVELOPED?
A There is a constant source of information going back to the Chancery every year through bi-yearly Mass counts, sacramental records and budgets and other financial accountings. Time is of the essence. With each passing month, the needs become more apparent (i.e. physical plant needs, declining attendance, school enrollment, etc.). Archbishop Myers appointed a Task Force to gather data, identify principles and criteria, and form specific recommendations. Now is the appropriate time for all the recommendations to be considered by people throughout the Archdiocese of Newark.
Q WILL THE MEETINGS SCHEDULED TO BEGIN SOON WITH LEADERS FROM ALL IMMEDIATELY INVOLVED PARISHES REALLY CHANGE ANYTHING? HASN’T EVERYTHING BEEN DECIDED ALREADY?
A What has been identified so far is that there must be significant change in many parishes for the good of the spiritual health and vitality of the community. However, the 48 parishes each have a great deal of influence on the process of that transition and the final recommendations. While the status quo is no longer sustainable, parishes have the responsibility to seriously consider the recommendations and to explore other options. Parish leaders are also asked to remain open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and to commit to a process of conversation and reflection.
Q MY FAMILY HAS SUPPORTED OUR PARISH FOR THREE OR FOUR GENERATIONS. OUR FAMILY MEMBERS HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED, MARRIED, AND BURIED FROM OUR CHURCH. HOW CAN YOU EVEN DISCUSS CLOSING A CHURCH SO IMPORTANT TO THE FAMILY HERITAGE OF SO MANY PEOPLE?
A This is a really sensitive and important question. Each parish community has a proud and meaningful history. This history is personal and meaningful for each person and community. As Archbishop Myers has said, “The status quo regarding parish life in the 235 current parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark is no longer sustainable.”
The Task Force that has studied parish life throughout the four-county area has also stated that “each recommendation is difficult. Each new direction impacts many individuals with emotional ties to an established structure. The Task Force also sees the need to exercise stewardship with the limited resources that are available to the parish and the Archdiocese. It is in light of what a parish is called to be in this particular geographic area and in recognition of limited resources that the Task Force makes its recommendations.”
These words do not make this process much easier. The discussions must go forward with as much participation as possible, so the Archdiocese of Newark can discover a new way of being Church that also remembers and celebrates the past.
Q WHAT HAPPENS TO A CHURCH THAT IS CLOSED? WILL THE ARCHDIOCESE DEMOLISH THE CHURCH AND SELL OFF THE PROPERTY TO SOME DEVELOPER?
A No decisions have been made about closing any parishes at this time. What has been decided is to initiate parish conversations, based on the task force recommendations and the parish principles. These important conversations are intended to respond effectively to the specific task force recommendations and to strengthen the ministry and mission of the Archdiocese of Newark.
Q MY CHILDREN ARE ENROLLED IN THE PARISH SCHOOL OF ONE OF THE SELECTED PARISHES. SHOULD I PULL THEM OUT? WILL THERE BE ROOM FOR THEM IF SCHOOLS ARE CONSOLIDATED?
A We do not recommend that you pull your students out of schools associated with parishes on the list. There are many aspects to consider in the reorganization of parishes and parish schools are a very important one. Not all of the 13 schools involved are fully enrolled, and the Archdiocese may look at the school in determining how best to continue to deliver educational services. The merger of schools or different grade configurations will depend on enrollment, the state of the building, etc. It is not a foregone conclusion that the schools merge because the parishes merge.
A key guiding Parish Principle for this project addresses the “essential nature” of parochial education. The aim of the process is to strengthen parish life; the strengthening also applies to schools. The Archdiocese is committed to offering quality parochial education for any family that desires it for their children. All schools need support more now than ever before. If a school is part of a consolidation as part of this reorganization, every effort will be made to accommodate the families that are presently enrolled.
Q SHOULD I DISCONTINUE MY SUNDAY GIVING IF MY PARISH IS GOING TO BE CLOSED?
A Your financial support to your parish is more important now than ever. A key Parish Principle for this project acknowledges the critical role that stewardship plays in the viability of a parish community. As communities join together to form a new parish, they will require both human and financial resources to establish the new reality. The gifts of money collected at Mass each week are a demonstration of people’s willingness to give back to God the “first fruits.” It is a sign of one’s gratitude for all that has been given and a concrete demonstration of support for the mission of the parish. Neither of these realities is going away in this time of transition.