Dear Parish Family,
Jesus told his followers “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few,” (Luke 10:2). Being ordained a priest in 2013, that Scripture sure has come to life for me. And I know that when it comes to the priesthood, everyone has noticed how few laborers there are to bring in the harvest.
One of my favorite pastimes since I arrived as the new pastor of St. Mary’s is to look at all the old yearbooks from SMSA and SMA. In the rectory, we have copies stretching back to the 1940s. When I leaf through, I see that for decades St. Mary’s had 4-5 priests living and serving in the parish. Even in the more recent 1998 directory there were three priests and a seminarian pictured.
But today, after the large priest graduation classes from the 1960s have since retired, the story is different. Although St. Mary’s continues to be a large parish and the school continues to enroll 200 students, there aren’t enough priests for St. Mary’s to have more than one. (But if there can only be one, I sure am glad it’s me!)
I recently went to a presentation from the Pastoral Planning Team of the Diocese, which is the office that is trying to stretch the small number of priests to cover the ministry needs in the 126 parishes of our Diocese. They told us that at the time of the presentation, there were 21 parish openings that needed a priest. Because there are not any priests floating around out there waiting for an assignment, every one of those openings required a serious strategy to meet. Each situation was going to require creativity.
They then gave us an example of the challenges they face in matching the number of parishes to the number of priests. In the city of Schenectady, they told us, there are 11 churches. Many of them are gorgeous works of art and architecture. They were built in the era before cars and before people commuted from suburbs. Today, if the Diocese were starting from scratch with the number of churches that Schenectady needed, they’d probably establish four or five churches, not 11. But 11 is what they have.
In those 11 churches there are 30 weekday Masses and 31 weekend Masses. (Interestingly, 10 of the Masses are all at 4 PM on Saturday… all in one city!) When you put all the rectories, parish centers, churches and other buildings from those parishes together you have 64 buildings to manage. I didn’t need to hear any more of the presentation to know that how big these challenges appear from that 3,000-foot perspective!
Now, here in Glens Falls, the story is not quite so dramatic, but the 3,000-foot view of our demographics is still fascinating. Our parish is 0.7 miles from St. Michael’s. OLA is 3 miles away and so is St. Mary’s-St. Paul’s in Hudson Falls. Our immediate area is densely populated, so we all see the need for these parishes and for sufficient Masses to accommodate everyone. But because the Pastoral Planning Office is facing such a challenging task, they have asked us to be creative and experimental in how we can meet the needs of our parishes with a small number of priests. Every parish is involved in some form of experimentation with the goal of tweaking what we’re doing without adversely affecting the quality of what we offer our Catholic people.
You may have noticed that on several occasions since I have arrived, a wedding or an emergency call has interrupted our confession schedule. In the old days, if one priest got called to a nursing home bedside, the other would hear confessions. Or of the pastor had a wedding, the associate pastor would go to the confessional. But today, there’s just me. Getting another priest to hear confessions is a tall order, since there are so few of us to begin with and every priest is busy on Saturday with weddings, funerals, Confirmation retreat, events and… of course… confessions.
Because St. Michael’s is less than a mile away, with confessions held at the same time as ours; and OLA is 3 miles away with the same confession schedule; and Hudson Falls is similar, we are going to take a few months to experiment with temporarily changing our schedule and redirecting people who wish to go to confession on Saturdays to take advantage of the three simultaneous opportunities in a 3-mile radius. Each parish keeps track of the volume of confessions and doing so during this experiment will teach us what today’s people need.
At the end of the experiment, we may go back to what we have had in the past… or we may move our confessions to another time slot… or we may try something we haven’t thought of yet. But at least in trying this, we are bringing some creativity to the puzzles we face with so few priests. And we will continue to offer confessions on Wednesdays after the 12:10 Mass, as is possible, at a time when no other parish offers them.
Our goal is clear – we want to do as much ministry in Glens Falls as impactfully as possible with the small number of priests we have. Thank you for being willing to approach this puzzle with me with hopeful optimism, creativity and faith.
Saturday Afternoon Confessions in our Immediate Area
St. Michael's, South Glens Falls = 3:00 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. (0.7 miles)
OLA, Queensbury = 3:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. (3 miles)
St. Mary’s, Hudson Falls = call 518-747-4823 to schedule (3 miles)