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Despite being the week of the fourth of July, the last several days have been a whirlwind. Between my normal (new!) duties as pastor here and covering those of one of our vicars while he enjoyed well-earned vacation time, it has been a wild ride. And before I go any further, let me assure you dear reader that this is not a complaint! I’m already enjoying the diversity of communities, the peaceful drives between locations, and the opportunity to meet parishioners from across our four parishes and mission. The fact of the matter is that this is fun (yes, really!) – and it is a delight to finally dive into pastoral community and life after so much time of preparation and waiting.

Of course, the big question on everyone’s mind and lips is ‘what’s next?!?’. Folks are part anxious, part curious, and part excited to find out where we go from here and what I am going to do now that I’m pastor. And more than a few parishioners have ideas – some already laid out in no small detail – about what they think should be my priorities and plans!

While I do indeed have ideas, hopes, and even plans of my own, my response is the same to all: give us time. Time to connect with each other (especially key leadership), time to settle in, time to adapt to this new reality practically and emotionally. In more than a few ways, we’re still firming up the basics of ministerial presence – I don’t (yet!) have an office phone, our parish emergency line is being finalized, our laptops only just issued, and email address access being distributed…. to say nothing of the human side of starting anew. Rest assured that a vision and plan is going to come together, but it will take time. For now, let’s work on simply being a parish family together – no small task in itself.

Initial priorities – laying the foundation for the coming months

All that said, we’re not just sitting around! Though it is a quiet time of year for parishes, summertime is crucial for making preparations for the coming liturgical year, sacramental preparations, and parish life. With that in mind, I’ve got three priorities that I’m currently working through – in this order: 1) priest life, 2) liturgy, and 3) faith formation.

Priest life is my shorthand for getting all three of us priests – myself, Father Ed, and Father Gali – sorted in the way of day-to-day living and ministry. Not only regular living arrangements at our shared rectory in Port Angeles, but also sorting out how we will use the rectories across the parish family (for example, I’ll be staying overnight in Forks at the rectory this weekend to avoid unnecessary driving). Keys, linens, toiletries, water, electricity, wifi, the works – all needing checked, set up, and shared among us.

Thanks to being the pastor and architect of our schedule, I have a pretty firm grasp of the new schedule and rotation arrangements – but this is also something needed learned by all three of us. Things like addresses & directions, drive times, and simply who is where when are all being internalized and processed.

Last but certainly not least is the work of getting to know each community! Not only people, but practicalities of each location – where to park, where facilities are located, sacristy arrangements, and even where the priest simply sits at Mass – they are all slightly different! And while only the pastor is rotating among every single location (once a week, every week!), our two vicars will be balancing at least two locations every week, learning about and adapting to them as needed.

Which brings us to liturgy and liturgical celebrations. The second priority I have as pastor is connecting with the liturgical leaders of each parish, learning how things are done at the various locations, and settling on standard expectations & practices. Where changes need to be made, the right people need to be in on the discussion and those affected will need clear and consistent communication not only of the what but also the why of those decisions.

For those who have already celebrated Mass with me, you’ll have heard me talk about a theme that will be a regular refrain: legitimate diversity within the liturgical law of the Church. While those things that are not permitted by the Church will need to be brought to a close, there is far more diversity allowed for in liturgical celebration than most people know! Some of it is quite singular, such as whether or not the priest wears a biretta or not (see my pastor’s notes!). Some is more far-reaching, such as whether or not the sign of peace is extended among the congregation.1

The first part of liturgical work is a cheat sheet of priest practices so that all our priests & parishes – especially our sacristans! – can celebrate liturgies with ease and confidence. The larger work will be examining our liturgical celebrations and seeing how we can ensure that our liturgical practices within the laws of the Church and our archdiocese while still allowing for legitimate diversity.

Finally, I will be working on mapping out our faith formation programs with our faith formation staff. The highest work of these programs is in sacramental preparation – baptism, first reconciliation & first holy communion, confirmation, OCIA, and marriage. First we’ll need to collect information on the current practices across the parish family, seeing how we do things similarly and differently at each location. The goal will be to establish common policies, standards and practices, along with clear paths of communication for implementing those.

We’ll also look at extra-sacramental2 faith formation – CCD, youth, young adult, and study groups. Examining what demographics and needs are being covered well and where we need to plan (and dream!) to change or expand our current offerings. Perhaps the highest priority for me in this will be enabling regular and meaningful priest presence in our sacramental preparation and extra-sacramental faith formation programs. Though this will not be possible in many of the programs as currently scheduled,3 there are yet quite a few opportunities that will be exciting to explore and implement.

Special note should be made of our parish school, which is the single largest faith formation program in all of the Olympic Peninsula. Having our priests present for drop-off before school, present in the classrooms each week, and otherwise taking part in the mission of Catholic education is both low-hanging fruit (its literally across the street from our home!) and potentially deeply affective & effective ministry. Though classes are not currently in session, I’ll be working closely with our principal to dream about the coming school year.

Relationship, communication, and consistency

Now that you know the what – at least, by way of priorities – let’s talk about the how! For this, I am leaning on a familiar acronym: RCC. For most, this stands for Roman Catholic Church – and we’re certainly not abandoning that! But we will also be relying on it to internalize the values of Relationship, Communication, and Consistency. These are the means by which we will accomplish great things within our parishes and throughout the Olympic Peninsula.

Relationship is fittingly the first and most important of values. We start with our relationship with and in Christ. Friends of the Lord and members of the Body of Christ, we simply can’t do this without relating – and relating well – with each other. Especially in a big family (and we are a big family of parishes!), there is history to be had and axes to be bury. Much of the work of becoming one canonical parish will be in learning to love each other within our parishes and between our parishes. Forgiveness will need to be asked for and offered, graciousness encouraged and extended, fraternity sought and built. We need each other – and I am convinced that we will find great joys in encountering and engaging each other as family.

Communication – as you may have guessed from the many (and long!) writings from me – is a close second in the hierarchy of values. Its important to recognize that communication does not necessarily mean getting what we want. It does mean taking time to hear each other out and explain the what, why, and how of decisions. It’ll mean making policies and practices publicly accessible within and across our parish family. It will mean clear understanding of roles and responsibilities. And perhaps most importantly, it will involve meaningfully engaging with each other at every level – staff, leadership, and regular parishioners – formally and informally.

Finally, we come to Consistency – the backbone of communication and relationship. Though there will assuredly be changes as called for after proper discernment, consistency means that we will hold fast to our principles, policies, and practices with regularity. While there is room for extraordinary exceptions, they will be just that: outside the ordinary practice and generally exceptional, never routine or regular. Every parent knows that if one child gets special treatment, all children will understandably object if they don’t! Though the vast majority of our parishioners are adults, this principle holds true for the children of God and we will work hard to ensure that our consistency can be trusted and relied on.

Slow and steady!

I know that there are lots of questions – and I have hardly answered any of them in-person or here! Though there is plenty to be sorted out, our goal – given to us by the archbishop – is simple: to become one canonical parish. Happily, we have several years to discern how that will work and what we need to do to reach the finish line. Will there some wandering in the desert – absolutely! But we wander together and, most importantly, we are guided by the Lord. Bound together in the new covenant of Christ, may we make our journey as David did – if not with singing and dancing (at least, not for me!), with great joy at the reality of Jesus in our midst.

My favorite cover of Roger Miller’s King of the Road

  1. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 154 ↩︎
  2. ‘extra’ as in the Latin ‘outside’ or ‘beyond’ ↩︎
  3. Sunday catechesis eliminates any possibility of regular and meaningful priest presence – something we’ll have to wrestle with over the coming months and year! ↩︎