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Moving Into a New Parish

September 14, 2015

You get the news that you are moving, you pack your things up, and you begin to settle in. What struck me especially, within a few weeks or so after officially becoming pastor, was that there is more than you can know.  It’s a physical move for sure and that in itself is a big transition – setting up a new living space, setting up a new office, learning one’s way around the area, and trying to remember the names of the people you meet within the first few days of your arrival.  There’s a little bit of looking backward to where you’ve come from, and a nostalgia for the familiarity and order that you had before.  And at the same time, a sense of a Spirit at work, unsettling things, moving outward toward something new, and a recalling that this goes along with what so much of the Scriptures have to say about the experience of God: go out into that world, meet new people, and trust in a God who asks us to go forth.

Maybe it’s these transition times that draw us closer, or deeper, into our sense of God in our lives.  When I’m settled somewhere, I know the routine, I know how it all works.  But when I’m unsettled, I’m left vulnerable.  I don’t know the answers to a lot of things.  I don’t know a lot of people.  I’m aware that I need things from people – answers, directions, advice, insight, help.  There’s a sense of not being “in charge,” at least for a time, until the whole place starts to become more familiar, more known.  And all of that leaves me in the chapel, drawn to prayer there, and maybe more receptive to listening and watching for signs of grace.

There’s the awkwardness of not knowing a lot in the early days of a transition, and that’s not easy, but I’ve found that it can be a time for listening, for seeing things with the fresh eyes of someone who is new to the organization, for asking questions about the way things work.  Asking questions can be especially helpful, especially if it’s done in a curious, “why do we do it this way” kind of way. I’ve found that it can draw people out, and invite them into a wider conversation.

Why, for example, in the parish I’ve recently started in, at our monthly welcome gathering for new parishioners, do we spend most of the meeting telling people about the multiple ministries that we have here, and leaving people with a sense of information overload?  How did it evolve to this?  Is there a better way maybe?  Words come back.  What if, a few people say, instead of presenting all kinds of information to people, we ask them a few simple questions like, what brings you here, or how could we help you in your transition to a new parish?  In time, a new way takes hold.  The vulnerable time of a transition allows for new ideas to surface and be talked about.  Signs of grace along the way…

By: Fr. Steve Patti, O.F.M., Pastor, The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, Raleigh, NC 

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