One of the significant changes in leadership in American parishes is the need for priests to pastor multiple parishes.  A recent book by Sr. Katarina Schuth, O.S.F.[1], reports that 20 percent of active priests serving in parish ministry (in 2005) had multiple parish assignments.  That’s one in five!  What’s more, the percentage of parishes (in 2005) being served by a priest with more than one parish stood at 44 percent. 

As a pastor soon finds when placed in a multiple parish pastoring situation, each parish has its own culture, that is, its own history, traditions, religious practices, operating norms and celebrations.  Each works off a different set of assumptions about how resources are allocated, decisions are made, and administrative practices are handled.  Who can write checks?  Who holds keys to the parish?  Who has a budget?  Pastors must understand the assumptions and practices of each setting and learn how to operate in each setting.  Standardization of practices is ideal, but may take time and meet with resistance.  Appeals to tradition –”we have always done it this way”– abound.

In addition to navigating multiple cultures, the pastor is saddled with multiple consultative groups – that is, multiple parish pastoral councils and finance councils.  This may mean multiple sets of meetings in different locales and double the work.  Time management is a skill these pastors must cultivate.  I know of a pastor who has been creative in addressing the logistics of multiple meeting by scheduling them all on the same night at the same time in the same location and roaming back and forth between them.  It is not ideal, but it works for him.  Bringing the multiple parish councils together into one consultative body might be ideal from the pastor’s perspective, but may take time to develop the requisite relational capacity between the groups to work together effectively.

Another challenge is where the pastor resides among the multiple parish sites.  The site where the pastor resides assumes a place of prominence in the minds of parishioners.  Parishioners from this site are seen as having greater access to the pastor, and subsequently greater influence over pastoral decisions.  Those from the other sites feel more vulnerable to closing or consolidation in the future.  The pastor must go above and beyond to demonstrate his care and devotion to the non-residential sites – an effort which often proves futile.

There are a myriad of issues that must be negotiated carefully in a multiple parish staffing situation – more numerous that we can explore here.  The point is that with multiple parish pastoring comes greater organizational complexity and a whole new set of pastoral challenges.  Greater planning, coordination and attention to relationships is demanded. 

I would be interested in hearing comments from others about their experiences with models of multiple parish pastoring.  Any wisdom to share?  Any areas to avoid?  Any best practices to pass along?


[1] See Sr. Katarina Schuth, O.S.F., Priestly Ministry in Multiple Parishes (Collegeville, Min: Liturgical Press, 2006).

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