Voices: Transitioning with mercy and love

By Emily Hurlimann
Guest Columnist

It’s that time of year again –– summer is always a time of transition. Most college seniors have already graduated and are preparing for their next adventure. High school seniors are graduating and planning for their next step into adulthood. The school year is ending and families are transitioning into the unstructured life of summer. Many parishes are transitioning too as throughout our diocese, some are saying goodbye to current pastors and preparing to welcome new ones. 
Saying “goodbye” to a beloved pastor is tough –– especially if he has been at the parish for a long time. Sometimes it’s even more difficult to welcome a new pastor because there are so many unknowns: Will his homilies be long? Does he like guitars in the choir? Does he use a lot of incense? Will he make a lot of changes?
Of course the mixed emotions aren’t all on the side of the parish/parishioners. Our priests, being the wonderful, faith-filled men they are, are just like the rest of us, they may experience sorrow at leaving a particular community and may have some anxiety about what the new parish will be like: Is it a vibrant parish with plenty of people who want to help? Do they like a more traditional Mass or do they prefer something more contemporary? How are the collections each week? Do they like incense? Are they open to new ideas and changing some things?
When a priest is assigned to a new parish, he is not only moving, but he is changing jobs and ending relationships. He may be going from a small town to a large city or vice versa. He has to adjust to living in a different community and working with a new staff.
Over the years in my job as coordinator of the Office of Ethics and Integrity in Ministry, I have talked with parishioners throughout the diocese, and a number of priests as well, about the challenges of priest transitions at a parish. As I speak with people, I find that, most of the time, people simply want to be listened to and heard. So I listen. 
As I listen, I have come to recognize patterns in some of the issues that arise, and over the last eight years I have heard several common themes when it comes to transitions at the parish level. Based on those many discussions, I have compiled a few reminders for the laity as priests and parishioners transition this summer. 
1. Contrary to what parishes sometimes seem to think, the assignment of a particular priest to a particular parish is not at all random, nor without consideration. There is a group of priests who work hard on this task of priestly assignments almost year-round, evaluating many factors and needs along the way. Trust that the Holy Spirit is in charge.
2. “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not a good reason. Discussing what and why something has been done a certain way and being open to new ideas builds consensus and respect.
3. We must strive to find Christ in one another. Even when we are angry or overwhelmed, as Christians we are called to treat everyone with love and respect.
4. Remember that a priest is called and ordained to do God’s work. And we the lay faithful are here to do God’s work as well, but what we are called to do is different than what our priests are ordained to do. There is plenty of work to be done by all of us. 
5. Communication is everything –– but talking to a person, rather than about them, is usually the most effective method.
6. Be open and flexible –– these are the keys to a smooth transition.
7. Pray, pray, pray. Pray for our priests, pray for our parishes, pray for our bishops. 
May God bless all of us as we transition this summer and may we practice goodness and mercy.
Please note: New pastor assignments are generally released at the beginning of June. Visit the diocesan website at www.austindiocese.org for more information.

Emily Hurlimann is the coordinator of the diocesan Office of Ethics and Integrity in Ministry (EIM). She can be contacted at (512) 949-2447 or emily-hurlimann@austindiocese.org.