On May 14, 2005, VOTF NY offered Parish Encounter
to the parishes of New York. It was a symposium designed
to prepare laity to take increased responsibility for easing
the pain and focusing on the spiritual aspect of the still
undisclosed parish closings and mergers in the archdiocese.
By any measure, it was a great success!
A total of 121 Laity from 41 parishes listened to speakers,
got to know other parish leaders in their vicariate, made
recommendations to the archdiocese for a better process,
and pledged to help faith communities in their areas.
The program, in St. Ignatius Loyola’s Wallace Hall,
focused on the Laity and Clergy working together to ensure
that faith communities are respected and the transition
is as smooth as possible. The participants included
8 priests. Participants will begin to initiate meetings
in the vicariates to take place over the summer. A follow
up conference mobilizing the participants along with those
from additional parishes, will be held in September when
the archdiocese announces its “realignment.”
At Parish Encounter, experts discussed: the spirituality
of a parish; the future of the parish and the role the laity
must play; an example of lay leadership education that is
happening in one vicariate; and the best practices on church
closings and reorganizations covered in a nationwide study.
A panel discussion of parishioners in the Archdiocese who
have personally experienced closings or mergers – some experiences
were very bad and some were very positive – was included.
The difference in the two experiences can be summed up as
sensitivity, communication, and mutual respect. There was
also some training on how to communicate with your pastor.
A highlight was the group discussions by vicariate or areas.
Participants formulated recommendations for the Archdiocese
on what they felt needed to be done prior to the announcement
of the closings and what needed to be done after the announcement
is made in the fall. The recommendations will be presented
to Bishop Dennis Sullivan who is in charge of the realignment.
The recommendations urged the establishment of
open dialogue, support of Faith Communities, and explanations
of all decisions to the Laity. None of which, according
to the participants, are part of the current process. The
- Meet and Listen: Invite all members
of the Laity and Clergy to meet to discuss the approaching
realignment. Urge every Pastor to organize special meetings
of parishioners devoted to listening and sharing concerns
about the parish realignment.
- Engage in Dialogue: Conduct an open
dialogue throughout the Archdiocese on the realignment,
by organizing frequent and well-publicized meetings of
the Laity and Clergy in which any member of the Laity
- Provide Direct, Tangible Support: Help
Faith Communities affected by closings or mergers to maintain
their integrity as they search for new homes. Provide
counseling and monetary resources to smooth the transitions.
Arrange special Liturgies to strengthen faith communities,
mark the loss of parishes and preserve sacred treasures.
- Inform: Explain clearly the criteria
used for deciding why a particular parish has to close
or why certain parishes must merge. Provide for appeals
in instances where parishioners strongly disagree. Tell
parishioners what will happen to the resources of affected
parishes, including property and financial assets.
- Plan: Begin to organize a synod of
Clergy and laity on the mission of the Church in the New
The attendees completed “commitment cards” in which they
agreed to request a meeting with their pastor to discuss
what collective action they can take. This site will have
updates over the summer. There is a great deal more work
that needs to be done as we prepare for the follow up conference
in September, Parish Encounter II, and as the laity in the
local vicariates initiate their meetings with their pastors.
It’s your church, and it’s wounded. Help to heal it now!
here to be contacted for Parish Encounter II