More Responses to Parish Merging Questions and Concerns
Q. Has there ever been an attempt at a parish merger that was not successful?
R. It’s the general consensus among parish and diocesan leaders across the country that the more successful parish mergers are those done with parishioner involvement, dialogue, and communication. Mergers that have occurred “top-down” from the diocese without much parishioner involvement, dialogue, and communication tend to be much less successful – in other words, there is greater parishioner discontent.
Q. We are all proud of our individual parish choirs and musicians. Would there need to be significant changes to each church’s music programs in the event of a merger?
R. When Fr. Bill Felix came to speak last spring, he explained how in the case of his parish merger, the three choirs united as “one parish choir” with one director or coordinator, but each church had its own “schola,” which was made up of the members of the choirs of the original three parishes. Their “parish choir” would then come together mostly just for special events, such as Confirmation. Their merged parish uses the same hymnals and missalettes. I also believe they agree to use the same hymn selection for weekend Masses, and probably the same Mass setting as well.
As for a merger in our case, choir members and musicians bring to their current respective parish choirs very different gifts and skills. Because of this, I don’t foresee any dramatic change in the uniqueness of the three choirs, or “scholas” in the event of a merger, especially in the area of musical style and instrumentation. Based on his experience, however, Fr. Felix recommends that there be some continuity in music across the three churches – such as with hymnals, hymn selection, the use of Mass settings etc., as this helps to establish and build up parishioners’ sense of belonging to a unified single parish. The development of a plan for our community would require the involvement and collaborative work of our current choir leaders.
Q. Will all parishioners have the opportunity to vote on the merger?
R. I do not believe that a popular vote by parishioners in favor of or opposed to a merger is the best approach. When it comes to the most important operations of our parishes – their pastoral outreach and financial and administrative workings – the biggest decisions and consultation to the pastor occur through representative bodies, namely the Pastoral Council and Finance Council. These councils consist of elected and/or appointed parishioners that represent the whole parish community, and who are able to bring forward the concerns that other parishioners voice to them. In consulting with each other and the pastor at regular meetings, these council members often have a sense of the “big picture” of various pastoral and financial issues. They are more aware of the various issues involved in a decision.
Communication to parishioners about the issues surrounding a possible merger is no easy feat. Many parishioners do not regularly attend Mass at one of our three parishes to hear verbal communication. Many parishioners do not regularly read the bulletin, or go to the tri-parish website or Facebook page to read written communication. Many parishioners did not attend the initial presentation given by Fr. Felix last spring in which many questions about merging were fielded. Keeping everyone informed is something we keep working at and we try to do better, but ultimately it’s darn near impossible. For this reason, having representative bodies who are more thoroughly informed involved in key decision-making is absolutely necessary.
While I don’t think a parishioner popular vote on a merger would be the best course of action, I do think a vote or consensus from our representative bodies, such as our Pastoral Leadership Committee and Finance and Administrative Leadership Committee (which consist of Pastoral and Finance Council members from each parish, as well as Exploratory Committee members) would be appropriate. Therefore, I would like to reiterate the importance of talking to members of your representative bodies with the concerns and questions you may have. In addition to this, however, we will also be holding a town hall meeting in each parish at some point in the future in order to present the proposal for a merged parish. The response and interest from parishioners in these meetings will help to guide representatives in their decision-making for the merger.