Change can be hard. We get used to the way things are done in our parish, we develop a relationship with our pastor, and now he’s moving away. How can we deal with the transition? Bishop James Wall from the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, joined Morning Air® with some advice for those who are experiencing change in leadership at their parish.
Saying goodbye to our pastor can be difficult. “Oh, we just want to cry when a beloved priest is moving on, but, well, I suppose the idea is to spread the good work around and remind people that we’re not there to worship that particular person but to worship our Lord, and so there is movement of clergy from time to time,” said Glen, co-host of Morning Air.
Often, people are sad when their priests receive a new assignment to serve another parish. “That happens quite a bit, and I think one of the reasons why that happens is because a priest really is a spiritual father to his parishioners, really investing himself in their lives. He’s there at really happy times—weddings, baptisms, birth of children—and then he’s also there during really difficult times, maybe the loss of a family member, funeral, visiting somebody who’s sick in the hospital. And so the priest can really invest himself in the life of the people who are entrusted to his care,” said Bishop Wall.
Transitions can be difficult for priests, too. “So when those times do come, and every priest has experienced it, when there’s a greater need for you in another place. Maybe you’re a parochial vicar as associate pastor and then you’re being called to be a pastor giving greater responsibility, or perhaps you’re a pastor and you’re called to take on some greater responsibility in the diocese maybe working in the chancery—those are two experiences that I had as a priest when I was in the Diocese of Phoenix. And it’s not easy,” said Bishop Wall.
How can we thank our priests and support them as they leave our parish community? It’s important for the priest to give his parishioners time to say goodbye, says Bishop Wall, and his people can continue to support him even after he’s moved away from the parish. “I just think one of the most important things that we can do for our priests, whether they are transitioning or not, is to pray for them, to daily lift them up in prayer. It’s a difficult life, it’s a difficult calling and we rely upon the grace that God gives us and we are really supported with the prayers of our people.”
Our priests are our spiritual fathers and friends, but we can’t let them be the center of our faith. “We really have to avoid the cult of personality where my faith relies upon the personality of the priest rather than seeing him as somebody set apart for God, called to serve as a priest and really in the Mass and the confessional, to act in the person of Christ,” explained Bishop Wall.
Listen to the full podcast here: Bishop Wall Morning Air podcast