A new development in pastoral planning for the Albany Diocese will help meet the needs of parishes that are in-between pastors.

From now on, when a pastor retires or is reassigned, an “interim parish team” will be assigned to the parish to provide for the celebration of Masses and other sacraments until a new leader is appointed. The interim team will also assist the parish’s pastoral council, finance committee and other leaders in creating a “profile” of the parish.

Such profiles are not new. Prospective pastors and parish life coordinators (PLCs) in the Diocese have always been given a precis on a parish with an opening for a leader so that, before expressing interest in being assigned there, they know where the parish stands in terms of finances, property, sacramental needs, human resources and the like.

The new interim parish teams will be composed of two people:

•  either a retired priest of the Diocese or one on special assignment (working in a non-parish ministry); and

•  an interim leader, someone who has a background in theology and experience in parish administration.

The teams will help the parishes where they’re assigned to create a more thorough, accurate parish profile.

Deacon Frank Berning, diocesan director of pastoral planning, explained that, in the past, a pastor may have begun a new assignment and then learned that there were serious parish needs that the profile had not addressed: for instance, a water leak can mean the church needs a new roof, which a leader should know before arriving at the parish.

The parish profiles will project any needs related to property for the next three to five years, said Deacon Berning.

The interim teams will also work with parish staff to figure out, for example, how parishes that are going to link with one another can best work together. That could mean changes in Mass times, new staffing models and better job descriptions for staff.

Interim leaders have been used in the Diocese as far back as 2011. Deacon Berning noted that this model is also used by Protestant churches when they’re in-between pastors.

The other reason for using interim parish teams, the director said, is that the Diocese does not have enough priests right now to appoint a pastor to every parish as soon as there is a vacancy.

Although there have been an increasing number of men studying for the priesthood, it takes time for them to complete their education, and they must also spend time learning from experienced pastors before being assigned a pastorate of their own.

Deacon Berning said that parishes without a pastor or PLC need to know that the Diocese is mindful of their needs.

With the new system, he said, “we’re not leaving people without a process or somebody there on a regular basis that is their connection to the Diocese.

“This will be a time that will help us out while we do a search [for a pastor] and get the profile out,” he said.

Three experienced interim teams have already been identified by the Diocese and are completing an orientation process. Deacon Berning expects that there will eventually be four or five teams; each team can handle up to two parishes at a time.

Teams will likely spend three to four months at a parish before a new leader is appointed. Currently, there are five parishes in the Diocese that are being assigned an interim team: St. Adalbert’s, St. Paul the Apostle and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, all in Schenectady; Holy Spirit in East Greenbush; and St. Joseph’s in Worcester.

Several more parishes also do not currently have a pastor or parish life coordinator assigned to them, including Sacred Heart in Margaretville, Holy Family in Little Falls and St. Joseph’s in Dolgeville. The latter two have actually had an interim leader for several years already: Deacon James Bower.
Given the number of projected retirements and reassignments, Deacon Berning said, by Feb. 1, 2019, there will be another eight parishes in need of a pastor.

“We must be assured we are ministering to these parishes,” the director said. “That’s what it means to be Catholic.”