(Click HERE for the video.)
Though we have celebrated Easter in vastly different ways that have stretched our comfort level, we do continue to celebrate Easter. Easter is a time of New Life, a time of renewal after assessing our lives during Lent, a time for starting fresh.
In this time of quarantine, we continue to feel unsure and worry. It is now projected that the beginning phases of coming back together in public may not happen until July or later. For churches and parishes, the transition to full participation could be up to a year or more with the expectation of permanent changes as to how we gather for worship.
The Parishes of Billerica have had to face our own challenges that will result in some urgent action allowing an opportunity to look to a plan for regeneration. Looking back as far as 12 years prior to coming together as a collaborative, our three parishes have been challenged financially and with property maintenance.
I have discussed these struggles with our Staff, our Finance and Pastoral Councils as well as several concerned parishioners at each parish. In that time period, transparent communication regarding the seriousness and urgency of these concerns had not been consistent or even understated at the three parishes. These mixed messages ultimately led parishioner response to also be inconsistent, insufficient, and short lived for the scope of the issues.
The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis also had an adverse effect on parishes that directly suffered from particular experiences
In the past six or seven months the pastoral and finance councils have discussed the concerns of our collaborative and how we are to address them. The strongest focus has been in the area of: Pastoral Ministries, Worship, Evangelization, and Finance. In our discussions, the question – “Would we better serve the people of Billerica as one (consolidated) parish?” has been voiced by both councils, and in a combined council meeting.
My initial response was to engage in a discussion to fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of becoming one, with the goal of coming to an informed decision. I was particularly concerned as consolidating is not necessarily the goal of the pastoral planning process. We planned to begin that initial process this May with some leadership training.
In early March, shortly after the introduction of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic on the world, businesses, social events and churches, we were confronted with the need to consider the immediate and projected effects the pandemic was having on our collaborative. Addressing the pastoral constraints and the immediate effect on our worship, Religious Education and financial operations could not be put off.
We are fortunate to be able to provide pastoral care and worship, limited as they are, and continue reduced operations by employing technology. We are grateful for your continued support and contribution as these adapted responses would not be imaginable without the continued generosity of our people.
In Late March, the Archdiocese reached out to us regarding what financial assistance was available to a limited number of struggling parishes, St. Mary being the only one of our parishes that qualifies. I was also told that the collaborative of Billerica was among 80 parishes and collaboratives in critical financial danger. As an immediate response to the crisis at hand for these 80 parishes, I was informed of the extraordinary decision to reduce the existing process to merge or consolidate multiple parishes into one parish as an appropriate and viable long-term solution. Without this option, one or two of our parishes are in grave danger of ceasing operation in the near future.
Seeking immediate consultation with the staff leadership team, it was decided to bring the finance and pastoral councils, along with the full collaborative staff together for an extraordinary consultation meeting to address the immediate concerns and options before us. On Monday, March 30 and Monday April 20 these men and women met (via zoom) to the revisit question of consolidation that had been discussed earlier in the year, under the new lens of the crisis we are facing, with the consideration to accelerate the process. To say this had been difficult and emotional for all involved is an understatement. I am painfully aware that the urgent nature of this discussion and decision at such a stressful time, and via a medium that was unfamiliar to many of us, was hardly ideal.
I am grateful to these men and women for their honesty and candid discussion, they honestly expressed their love for their parishes and faith, with a deep concern for the faithful of our three parishes, knowing the effects that this decision will bring. Though the final decision is ultimately mine to make, I rely on and respect the counsel and support of the women and men who advise me. I was not surprised that our discussions yielded expressions of both encouragement and some of opposition toward the proposal to proceed in the direction of consolidating our three parishes.
The primary concern continued to be the ineffective communication regarding the critical state of finances, the condition of properties and the amount of deferred maintenance, especially on the wider parish communities. These financial constraints have had a long term adverse effect on our ability to direct needed resources toward the pastoral needs of the people of our parishes, and the evangelization of new parishioners, and the need to reach out to help to heal those have disengaged from our parishes and the Catholic Church.
Consolidation of our three parishes would join the existing parishes of Saint Andrew, Saint Mary and Saint Theresa (that share a common legacy) to establish one new Parish to serve the combined territories of the present parishes. The buildings, property, assets, debt, and patrimony (donated items) of the present parishes will be retained by the new parish. Consolidating and forming a new parish, affords us the opportunity to plan for our future, on the foundation of the three original parishes.
At this time in our history, especially with recently released information projecting the long term effects of the current pandemic, I am more certain than two weeks ago that consolidation of the three present parishes into a newly formed parish is indeed the most prudent option. Consolidating will protect the resources of our three parishes to secure a hope of a stable future for the pastoral care of the Catholic Church in Billerica. Though accelerated by the current pandemic, the issues and concerns the three parishes in Billerica continue to face over the years have been inadequately addressed or resolved.
I fully appreciate and sympathize that this is difficult news to hear at a difficult time in our community and world. This decision does not come with a preconceived plan to make any specific changes to properties, programs, or schedules. Though there will be a critical need in the near future, to engage in discussions leading to informed decisions regarding pastoral care, staffing, offerings, properties, use of buildings, and finances, the result of which will bring significant changes as our new parish forms.
Detailed information of decisions made and how we arrived at them will be made public at that time. As a result of our meetings, it was recommended that we all take a week of prayerful reflection and discernment on the decision before us with plans to come together again on Monday, April 27 to share with each other the fruits of our prayer.
I also ask all of you to join us in prayer this week as we discern the mission of the Church in Billerica, to ensure the excellence of pastoral care that has been present in Billerica for over 150 years.
I am grateful for the open and honest consultation that I have received from our Lay Councils. I wish to thank them individually.
Collaborative Pastoral Council
Collaborative Finance Council