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Learning to work together strengthens parishes

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Are you in a Catholic Church parish that has merged or is sharing a pastor? Realize that you are not alone and help is out there.

The Loyola Institute for Ministry (LIM) in New Orleans recently hosted Mark Mogilka to address this topic in a two-day multi-parish ministry workshop attended by pastors, staff, pastoral council leaders and others from Baton Rouge to Metuchen, N.J.

“It came about because it is an increasingly prevalent form of parishes in the United States,” said Tom Ryan, director of LIM. “More and more parishes are being merged or linked together or even multi-cultural communities in one parish that require multi-parish ministry. It is important that leaders – pastors and lay leaders in these parishes – know about research that has been done because there are best practices in this area so they could avoid the mistakes of others and benefit.”


Mogilka distributed information about how common it is for parishes across the U.S. to merge, twin or share pastors. A recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) determined 38 percent of parishes are multi-cultural, 7 percent have been consolidated (since 2005) and 27 percent are multi-parish ministries.

That’s why more pastors and people in the pews are discovering challenges they hadn’t ever experienced and are seeking advice on what to do to be successful.

Mogilka gave participants the okay to practice “adaptive leadership,” knowing from experience that there is no “one way” to merge. The main goal should be to serve the needs and to know that “nothing is impossible with God.”

“If you listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and are well grounded in the traditions of the church, great things are possible,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a negative, overwhelming experience.”

Mogilka, director of stewardship and pastoral services for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., has experience with parish mergers and talked about best practices, skills and strategies for multi-parish ministries.

He co-authored “Pastoring Multiple Parishes” and chaired a national committee as part of a national pastoral leadership study project on multiple parish ministries.

He’s discovered that the key to the success of any parish – no matter how many ethnic groups or traditions exist – is to “respect the unique identity, rituals, traditions and roots of the community that make up the parish.”

Mogilka explored the idea of looking at diversity as a rich mosaic rather than a melting pot. A mosaic creates a better picture of the whole while maintaining the balance between the people, he said.

He encouraged attendees to “love people through it” as they experience a sense of loss and change during the process. Time for healing and forgiveness within the multi-parish situation must be factored in.

 To be successful, different groups have to reach common goals, transition to create a new identity, practice good stewardship, create stability and growth, balance individual and collective needs of the parish and form ministries that are life-giving.

“The pastor needs to learn to delegate but (still) hold the essential reins of the parish,” Mogilka said.

Challenges to address

Stress management is one of the biggest challenges Mogilka has found in multi-parish ministries, and leaders in this situation must recognize and deal with burnout and stress. Keys to reducing stress: leaders working smarter, delegating responsibility but not abdicating it, remaining mentally and physically healthy during the process, and having a peer support group outside of the parish.

Building relationships with all stakeholders and keeping the line of communication open also help, as does inviting members who are new to leadership roles. A pastor would be wise to urge a congregation to help him find the gifts of parishioners.

“The people who are going to bring the most life to your parish are the people who are new to your parish,” Mogilka said.

Mogilka said a variety of people attend his workshops. They could be from parishes that had been merged for some time and are seeking new strategies, from recently merged parishes or from those sharing a pastor who are anxious and want positive solutions for themselves and the communities they serve.

He says people usually are haunted with the belief that they are handling their situation incorrectly, but most leave the seminar affirmed that what they probably have been doing was the right thing to do.

Arthine Vicks Powers, pastoral associate from Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish in Bywater, attended the LIM workshop looking for new ideas from other parishes experiencing change. She was randomly assigned to a table with several priests and other lay leaders.

“The information here and research is definitely affirming of the process that the church has gone through and continues to experience concerning decisions (about parishes),” she said. “It’s a good workshop.”

Loyola plans to host similar workshops in the future. For details, call 865-2069 or contact Tom Ryan at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . View research about the changing dynamics of Catholic pastoral leadership by the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project at

            Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion