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Potential parish closings elicit strong emotional response

By JOANNE FOX
joannef@scdiocese.org

The presentation of Ministry 2025, the Diocese of Sioux City’s proposed plan for the future of parishes and priests which may result in the closing of some parishes, was met with a variety of emotions.

Not all were positive.

That didn’t surprise Sandra Pelzer, LISW, therapist at the Spencer office of Catholic Charities.

“How could it NOT be felt intensely?” she purported. “Thank God that we feel the loss fiercely, because these small parishes are very important places in the sanctity of our ordinary lives.”

Pelzer compared a parish closing to the loss of a family member or “a piece of ourselves.”

“This is a sacred place, a place that connects us to our ancestors and to our past and our future,” she said. “A sacred place in which generations of people have experienced the sacraments.”

Many people feel a profound sense of connection to these sacred spots, “to our past and to our future,” Pelzer stated.

“Additionally, through the loss of our parish, we may experience ‘future losses,’” she said. “We may have dreamed of seeing our child’s wedding in the parish, baptizing our children or grandchildren, or having our funeral in this parish.”

As a counselor, Pelzer teaches that sorrow serves an important function.

“Grief is how we express the loss of something that is important to us,” she said. “Actually, grief and love go hand-in-hand. The second function of grief is to prepare us for our next love. We cannot spark an interest in a new love without first experiencing grief. So, grief is to be fully experienced and honored, not denied or ignored.”

Pelzer noted that individuals who grieve the loss of their parish may experience the phases of grief first articulated by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969:

  • Denial and Isolation – refusal to accept the reality of the situation
  • Anger – feelings of despair and protest, blame
  • Bargaining – trying to negotiate or find alternatives to the loss
  • Depression – feelings of despair, hopelessness
  • Acceptance – radically accepting reality without judgment

“These were observations of Kubler-Ross many years ago and are still valid today,” she said. “However, more recent research has shown us that these are not always separate stages of grief, nor will everyone experience every phase.”

Pelzer revealed studies show that persons with strong spiritual practices cope with loss much better than those without.

“As Catholics, we are familiar with the seven virtues:  faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance,” she said. “Spiritual practices, such as studying the virtues, can help us move through our grief. For example, we can spend our time or energy studying fortitude or perseverance and leaning on our faith when our emotions are telling us to give up.”

Loss, even though it’s painful, can help us grow, Pelzer clarified.

“But I want to be careful that this doesn’t mean ‘Chin up!’ or ‘Don’t worry, be happy!’” she said. “An attitude of denial or dismissal is not helpful. Change and loss are universal human experiences, so learning to cope with them is an essential spiritual task. When done well, it creates in us a sense of awe and wonder – a sense of gratitude and hope.”

Pelzer pointed to something positive in the closing of a parish – the welcoming or joining of a new community.

“This can challenge us to be open and welcoming to others and new ways of doing things – to listen and show respect for the ‘other,’ who is not like us,” she said. “Sometimes, if we are open to change, we can surprise ourselves.”

Pelzer, who resides in Emmetsburg, provided a personal example to illustrate her insights.

“I belong to the RAE of Light Cluster (Ruthven, Ayrshire, and Emmetsburg), but I had not spent much time with my brothers and sisters in Ruthven and Ayrshire prior to this clustering,” she said. “I have immensely enjoyed the sincerity and earnestness of the organist in the Ruthven Sacred Heart Parish. He clearly enjoys playing the organ, and sometimes he does so with flair. This has put a new twist on familiar hymns, and I find myself smiling at the memory during the week and anxious to go back to hear him play again.”

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