The Clergy Personnel Board has completed its work for the year on the assignment of priests, I hope, and soon our attention will turn to the eighteen men to be ordained to the permanent diaconate in October. As I have said here before in prior posts, making decisions involving the lives of both priests and parishioners is neither easy nor is it fun. I dread it, for the most part, but it is an important aspect of the work of a bishop. It has become incredibly more difficult and challenging in more recent times due to the shortage of clergy. When I arrived here, there were always a few, not many, but a few priests on the “bench” who could be called to serve when disaster struck or an unanticipated vacancy occured. Now, there is no bench and when the unanticipated and/or unexpected occurs, it has ramifications for many – priests and parishioners. Parishes which once had three or four priests are now largely down to two men.
Some priests request a change in assignment. We have a “tenure” policy in the diocese which sets a six year term for priests as pastors with the possibility of a renewal for an additional six years making a total of twelve in any one parish. When a priest passes his sixtieth birthday, the term limits no longer apply out of respect for the reality that moving later in life is harder and harder. Some priests were “grandfathered into” their parishes when the “tenure” provision was adopted by the Council of Priests and agreed to by myself. This year we had two senior priests retire which then begins a “ripple-effect” as a pastor is moved from one place to another and often an associate pastor moves up to pastor his first parish. So it makes it somewhat easier when you know that you are facing vacancies due to retirement or the wish of a priest. It is no fun, believe me, to call a man who is doing well and is happy and tell him you need him somewhere else but that happens.
Assigning associate pastors is more and more a challenge as elements of rectory living like smoking and dogs and other pets become an issue in trying to pair talent with place. The Clergy Personnel Board take many things into consideration. When a parish is going to need a new pastor, two of them will visit the parish prior to making an assignment and meet with staff, pastoral and finance council, teachers and administrators. These visits in advance of selection of a pastor are helpful but almost everyone wants a clone of the Lord or some beloved pastor, past or present.
Special care accompanies the assignment of a young and/or newly ordained priest. After years and years of study and preparation, it is important that the bishop find a suitable first assignment where the pastor will both be present daily to his new associate as well as mentor them. Some of our parish communities in the diocese also nourish the first experience of priests and assist their pastor in both welcoming and training the new priest.
It took about two months to complete work this Spring on perhaps twelve assignments. Great care was taken and serious thought and prayer brought to the process. I think most of the men who have been effected by the forthcoming changes are happy or at least are at peace with the moves contemplated. Many of their parishioners are not, wishing that Father had stayed put because they like him. I get a ton of angry mail at this time of the year but I have come to accept and appreciate it as a sign of vitality and health among our presbyterate. If enough people are upset that someone is moving, it must mean that the priest has done a good job.
While the changes are generally well known, the diocesan website will carry the official notice of transfers tomorrow or Friday.
Update: The assignments are now available.