On Saturday, 22nd July, 2017, I was installed as Parish Leader for St Joseph’s Parish Toronto. I was installed with Fr Geoff Mulhearn, our Priest Supervisor, to work collaboratively for the pastoral care of the community. Parish Leader, Priest Supervisor, Sacramental Priest – these were new expressions born out of emerging models in our Diocese. We were being called to serve the Parish in a new way. In this model, the responsibility of parish leadership was being shared between a priest and a lay leader. We were being asked to work together in a new way, appreciating the different gifts we bring. And in learning to work collaboratively together, part of our ministry was to call forth the gifts of the whole community – to live out a spirit of co-responsibility with all members of the parish community. This was a new space for us. It was also a new space for the community. We wanted the community to share in the decision-making and leadership of the Parish. We explored new ways of doing things. Our meetings became places where we really tried to listen to all the voices around the table, particularly those with different points of view. We also invested in the gifts of others, entrusting to them the authority to make decisions in their particular ministry.
So how did we do? Like everything, there were blessings and challenges. Sometimes we missed the mark. Yet, for the most part, when we trusted people enough with a share in the vision and mission of the community, they responded in kind. And wonderful things happened. New ministries emerged – such as Welcoming, Family Days, Small groups. We even reshaped our leadership teams to match the skills and gifts of those called to leadership.
The time has now come for me to move on from my role as Parish Leader. Looking back, I can see that the greatest treasures of the community are the relationships, the friendships that have grown. And some of these were the result of opening up our Parish Structures to allow far greater involvement and exercise of responsibility by the people we are called to serve. I feel blessed to have worked with so many wonderful parishioners, people who had more skills than I did in many fields and were able to serve the community in ways that I couldn’t.
One of my greatest joys as Parish Leader was seeing people respond to the Spirit working in their own lives and helping them find their place in the life of the community – connecting them to other people, helping them start a new ministry, seeing them grow as disciples. And as that happened, quite organically, the shape of our community changed.
Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium that:
The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.
And this was our experience. We had to adapt.
We had been encouraged to explore a new model of Parish Structure for which there was no road map.
And we learnt together… as a community.