By RENEE WEBB
Although Ministry 2025 was just unveiled in the Diocese of Sioux City in February, pastoral planning has been happening for years.
It was in the mid-1990s when the concept of parish clustering was introduced. Some parishes began implementing that philosophy early on and have seen advantages to the process.
When Father Terry Roder became pastor of the Pilgrim Cluster four years ago, he said the clustering process for Alton St. Mary, Granville St. Joseph and Hospers St. Anthony had been in place for quite some time. He credited the parishes’ former pastors, Fathers Jim Tigges and Clem Currans, along with the former pastoral minister Sister Mary Hubert McQuinn, for their work as they began collaborating back in the 1990s.
“When they had two priests, they had time to work things out and organize so that when it did go to one priest, the parishes and ministries were used to working together,” said Father Roder, who is now the solo pastor of the three parishes.
The three parishes were already unified with the Spalding Catholic Schools when clustering first began and then held various common ministries such as RCIA and religious education. There are also united efforts among organizations such as the Knights of Columbus.
Along with collaboration among the cluster parishes, Father Roder said some parishes have built relationships with other dominations and work together on ecumenical events. The Pilgrim Cluster even united with the Catholic parish in Sioux Center for a Vacation Bible School this summer.
“Sometimes you don’t want to try things alone, but you can do it when you work with others,” he said.
Julie Storr, administrative assistant at the cluster made up of Manson St. Thomas, Rockwell City St. Francis and Pomeroy St. Mary, said in her six years of serving at the parishes, she has seen the collaboration continue to grow.
While they each have their own religious education program, the cluster parishes have unified to hold various activities such as Lenten retreat days, Advent activities and some special youth events such as Totus Tuus and NET Ministry retreat. Along with the common faith formation activities, they share a pastor and administrative assistant as well as other practical things like the parish bulletin.
“It helps to get it out of the mindset that the Catholic Church isn’t just the place where you go every week. The Catholic Church is really the church worldwide,” said Storr, who is also DRE at St. Thomas. “When we can be involved in other events in other parishes of our cluster, it gives us the sense that there is more to the church than just me in the pew.”
From a parishioner’s perspective, Dan Elbert of St. Michael Parish in Whittemore has seen the value in parishes working together. The parish is clustered with St. Cecelia in Algona.
“The fact that we are part of the Garrigan School System, we were already linked by the school and so I know that was a help,” said the Garrigan graduate. Several other outlying parishes share the common bond with the school.
In more recent years, he has seen the cluster parishes of St. Michael and St. Cecelia hold several faith formation programs together such as during the Lenten season.
“We will hold one day at St. Cecelia’s and another at St. Michael’s. There has been a nice intermingling and faith-sharing between the two parishes to build camaraderie and make us one,” said Elbert.
In time, many parishioners feel comfortable going to Mass at any of their cluster parishes.
Storr has witnessed how it strengthens the faith when parishes collaborate. Through the years she said they have taken great care in moving the host parish from one location to another so parishioners feel comfortable and welcome to attend at any cluster parish.
By the time Father Roder became pastor, he said parishioners of the three parishes knew each other and were used to going to Mass together.
“They know they are welcome in all parishes and know how things work,” he said. “They feel right at home and no matter what church they are in, they can place their envelope in the collection and it will get to the right parish.”
Father Roder said the comfort level is such that they can even pull parishioners to fill a ministry like an altar server or lector as they attend another cluster parish.
Elbert noted the Whittemore parish is down to just one Mass on Sunday, but he has no problem going to Algona for Mass and likewise sees other parishioners coming to St. Michael’s.
Having the extended parish family with St. Cecelia’s, he said, allows even further sharing among parishioners.
“There is a nice mix of parishioners at the events,” he said.
While there are many plusses associated with collaboration, Storr acknowledged there can be struggles.
“What makes it hard is that everyone wants something in their own parish and they are more apt to go if it is in their own parish, but the priest only has the same 24 hours in a day that we all have,” she said. “He can’t do the same programming in every parish.”
Father Roder noted as things change with the pattern of where people live, get jobs and shop, communities continue to face challenges with many things from volunteer fire departments to having enough youth to play Little League games.
Having programs or ministries in common can provide a means for better use of time by the priests, parish staff and parishioners.
What is also difficult, Storr acknowledged, is the reality that more change is on the horizon. With the proposed Ministry 2025 plan, the Pomeroy parish is slated to go to oratory status and the Manson and Rockwell City parishes will no longer be linked. They are to join with other parishes.
“We’ve worked hard to develop the friendships between parishioners and so it will feel like that is changing,” she said. “But on the other hand, because we have worked so hard to bring the parishes together and do things together, when this cluster changes we will already have a sense of what it takes to become involved in a new parish.”
Hope for future
As the diocese moves forward with the pastoral plan, Storr believes a give and take will be required of everyone.
“The parishes that are going to oratory are losing their home but the parishes that are going to absorb those parishioners are also going to have to change to include some of the activities or groups from the other parishes,” she said.
Father Roder would like parishioners to keep in mind that as the church continues to grow, so does the understanding of how to be church, how to reach out to others or do things in a new way that includes more people. He said Jesus and the apostles were role models of reaching out and spreading the Good News in new ways.
“When people start working together, the church will be stronger,” Storr said. “There can be a more vibrant, exciting parish life because there are more people to do more activities, but we all have to be willing to jump into it and accept that even if our church is staying open we need to change to.”
Ministry 2025, she noted, will affect every parishioner in the diocese.
“It will be challenging and difficult, but it can also be very rewarding,” Storr said. “It’s easy to get caught up in what we are going to lose and we forget to focus on what we are going to gain.”
Elbert said parishioners have had to make some adjustments getting used to new Mass times and so forth, but, he insisted, “we are all in this together.”