What to do when you get assigned a new Priest

Creatures of Habit

Over the years of teaching, I have learned that students hate change. Once students get into their groove and figure out their classes, they really don’t want to change. I moved the desks around a couple of times one semester and each time I thought I was going have a revolt on my hands. Students are just reflecting who we all are though, because we are all creatures of habit. We get settled into our routines and don’t really stray too far from that routine.

At our church, we go to the 8:30 mass and we see the same people, every Sunday. There is a comfort to it. You get to know your fellow parishioners and feel comfort with having a familiarity about your day. For a lot of us, it also means that we probably grew up with one priest. That priest was at the parish when you were baptized and possibly even married you. Years of seeing the same face for years and years was a comfort to us and they even became a part of the family.

Shifting Priests makes for Strong Parishes

However, as Bob Dylan famously said, “The Times They Are A Changing’” While each diocese is different, most Bishops move priests around to different parishes every 6 years or so, as decreed by the USCCB, and sometimes more like 2-12 years. In the Sioux Falls diocese, it is about every 7 years or so that priests get moved around. Of course, if there is a death or some other circumstance, priests can be moved based upon the needs of the communities.

The main reason for moving priests so often is to make sure parishes stay fresh and healthy. It keeps the focus on Jesus Christ instead of the priest. If a parish was to have a priest for 20 years, the personality of the priest would be driving the parish, not the sacraments.

At our parish, Father Stevens informed us this past Sunday that he is being transferred to a different parish after being with us for the past 7 years. For me, he is the first priest that I’ve known really well that I am losing. Both being a convert and our nomadic lifestyle when we were first married meant that I didn’t really know my previous priests too well and so didn’t think about it as much. This time is different. Megan and I are very active in our parish and have gotten to know Fr. Stevens well over the past few years. We’ve even spent the last couple of years helping plan St. Therese’s 100th anniversary.

I’m going to miss Father Stevens, but know that wherever he ends up, his deep devotion to God and his wonderful homilies will inspire those who have the chance to hear them and work with him.

How to Learn to Like the New Guy

One of the problems with change is that we are quick to judge something that is different. Even if it is better, we won’t like it. That favorite chair of yours that really should have been replaced years ago “feels” better than the new one you got. It really doesn’t, but it seems that way because it’s new and not what we are used to.

I know this is what a lot of us are going to feel come July when we get a new priest. He won’t be like Father Stevens and for that, we will judge him. How are his homilies? No way can they be as compelling. What will be his focus? Will he be too lenient or too strict? Will he drive parishioners away or bring them in? These are all questions that we are going to face when we meet our new priest.

So what do we do? Deuteronomy 31:8 gives us some idea: “Yahweh himself will lead you; he will be with you; he will not fail you or desert you. Have no fear, do not be alarmed.”

I think a good way to handle a change in a priest is to do so with a clean slate.

  1. Pray –  Don’t worry about what your new priest will be like and put trust in God’s hands that He is with you.
  2. Avoid comparing your new priest with your old one. Each of us is different and have a difference in the way we see things.
  3. Reach out – there is no better time than when the priest is new to the area to have him over for dinner. Or meet for coffee. He has a lot of new people he needs to get familiar with, so why not help it out a bit?

Get Out of your Comfort Zone

One of the reasons why I do like to change things up in my classroom is to jostle students out of their comfort zone a little bit. I want to challenge them and get them to not be complacent – and not just where they sit, but also how they think. If you are going through a change in your parish, don’t fret about it, but take it as an opportunity to grow your faith. Get a little uncomfortable and push yourself. You never know, it could be a great thing.

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