Masses, Meetings, and Mail: The Problem with Clusters

With the pastoral planning proposal, essentially, at the bare minimum, all that the parishes in your circle are sharing are a pastor, maybe some clergy, and a Mass schedule. The question is – do you want to share more? The problem with clusters is that without some creative planning for shared services, we’re not really making progress, but actually just creating more work for the pastor, i.e. more Masses, meetings, and mail. Sure, we’re keeping our parishes open, but we might be killing our priests. Saying four Masses a weekend may or may not wear out some of our priests, but carrying the administrative burden for 3 or 4 parishes might just do it. Imagine if you were pastor of eight parishes as one of our circles is proposing. Masses would be one thing, but the meetings and mail would be an organizational nightmare. The beauty of sharing one pastor between several parishes is that it is so much easier for the parishes to work as One Church. The problem with several parishes sharing one pastor is that without centralized shared administrative and pastoral services, no pastor would ever sign up to serve in that area.

There are a couple of options to address this.

  1. The parishes could decide to all merge and become one parish with several sites. This isn’t out of the question, but every parish should know the advantages and disadvantages of this set up before moving in that direction.
  2. The parishes could decide on a system for shared services. Not only would we recommend sharing a pastor, other clergy, and a Mass schedule, but we’d also recommend sharing a full time business manager or director of operations. Perhaps another shared staff member could be a coordinator of religious education. That all sounds easy, but the challenge is that there would be need to be an equitable and transparent way of divvying out these services.

The bottom line is that either way, the pastor will need to learn to delegate and rely on faithful, competent, lay employees to help serve the needs of all the parishes.  Parishes will also truly have to work together and share their resources to fully live out the vision of encountering Jesus and living mercy as one church.

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