MECHANICVILLE AND STILLWATER
Two parishes connect in faith through uncertain times
ADAM ROSSIAs parishes close and merge under the diocesan pastoral plan, Called to be Church, many Catholics are adjusting to life in a new church that may be unfamiliar or even uncomfortable. In other cases, parishes are linking and coordinating services and staffs, which can still require adjustments and new thinking.
Assumption/St. Paul in Mechanicville and St. Peter's in Stillwater will be linked together on July 1. Knowing some of the challenges their parishioners will have to deal with, Rev. James Kane of St. Peter's and Rev. Keith Hollis, OSA, of Assumption/St. Paul are doing the best they can to make things as easy as possible.
"We're slowly moving into this," explained Father Kane, "and we are going to keep our parishioners as up-to-date as possible with what is happening."
Perhaps the biggest change will be the departure in June of the Augustinian order of priests who have served Assumption/St. Paul and other parishes in the Albany Diocese since the 19th century. The order has had to consolidate its own ranks and pull back from other parishes, here and elsewhere, due to declining numbers.
Change and response
Augustinian priests have staffed Assumption/St. Paul since St. Paul the Apostle Church was founded in 1852. For Father Hollis, the challenges are no different than those of any other parish.
"Augustinians are doing what all [Catholic] parishes are doing," he said. "Numbers are dwindling and there is a shortage of priests."
Father Hollis will leave to become the director of campus ministry at St. Augustine Prep School in Richland, New Jersey.
Given Father Hollis' transfer, both he and Father Kane point out the biggest concern of the parishioners: not knowing what's next.
"Everyone is just uncertain what this is all going to be," Father Hollis explained.
Just in the past year, both parishes have gone from having three priests to two, and as of June 30 they will only have one.
Despite the shocks and shifts, both parishes are adjusting by combining efforts while preserving their respective traditions.
Along with Father Kane serving both parishes, there will be a shared staff for the positions of deacon, faith formation director, youth ministry director, and music director. Names of personnel for these positions have not been released.
Likewise, the respective committee from each parish for prayer and worship, finance, and Christian education will join together.
"Staffing is key," said Father Kane. "We made it clear that they must work together. We're not competing; we're working together for the same thing."
Both parishes will also retain other activities. St. Peter's will continue its "Generations of Faith" religious education program and Assumption/St. Paul will continue with their own age-specific program.
Though both Father Kane and Father Hollis say this process will be a challenge, they stress the fact that optimism can go a long way.
"If you get into it, one plus one is three," Father Kane said. "As we work together, the end result is going to be stronger. But if you're negative about it, then one plus one is less than two."
God the Facilitator
Father Hollis said the process depends on a good outlook and strong faith.
"People's attitudes must be transitional," he said. "I know it sounds flimsy, but I've come to believe it more and more - God will handle it."
Gregory Mansfield, deacon at Assumption/St. Paul, echoed the thoughts of Father Kane and Father Hollis, saying: "We want to make this transition as easy as possible."
Father Hollis, though it is an especially sad time for him, continues to preach optimism.
"Pastoring is personal about relationship," he said. "The reality of us departing that relationship is sad, but I'm hopeful, through prayer, that this time of change will be one guided by spirit and good for the future. It's been a privilege."