By Father Michael Griffin
It begins with the goodbyes—hard and beautiful.
Then a priest packs up his belongings and makes whatever arrangements are necessary to get them transported to a new rectory. Everything gets unloaded, and he sits among the boxes in a new place, in a new town, in a new parish, and somehow begins to get his head around what is happening.
Then there is the first weekend. He stands at the back of the church, unsure of the intricacies of how the Eucharist is celebrated here, and takes a deep breath as people in the pews begin to subtly turn to take a look at the new priest, who is hoping this first impression is a good one.
What is he feeling while he stands back there, slightly hidden by the servers? Well, from my experience, he is feeling nervous, but he is also feeling excitement at the opportunity; he is calmed by the smiles that those subtly turned parishioners are offering, and he has a renewed feeling of creativity.
It is another step on the long journey of his priesthood but also a chance to start again. It is an Easter feeling.
What are you feeling in the pews? Probably the same as the new priest waiting for the opening hymn to begin. You may be nervous simply because this is something new, nervous and wondering what form of priest this new one may be.
We understand the nervousness, we really do. Every priest is different; we have differing spiritualities and ways to lead, our personalities are widely varied, and we each have our own wounds and struggles. Because of that, we will have to earn the trust of the parish.
Yet, there is a commonality in our vocation that can, and should, be the foundation of that trust. It is simply this, why each of us discerned the vocation of priesthood in the first place: we loved the Lord and we wanted to grow in holiness, and through the ministry of the Church, desired to lead others to holiness as well.
If you remember that this new priest desires to help you grow in holiness and love, however he may make that a reality, you will be more open to the Holy Spirit at work, even in the changes that may come.
This openness will bring out an excitement to share with the new priest the things that make your parish a gift to you, and to the community in which it shines. Your parish exists in this moment of time, right now, gathered around the altar, and alive in the world.
It is also a parish that has a history. I find one of the most moving moments of those first Masses in a new parish is standing at the presider’s chair for the first time. Now, it is not a “cathedra” (the bishop’s chair from which he teaches and leads a diocese) but the chair of this parish, and it has a history as well. I cannot help but think of the men who have sat on that chair—leading, guiding and loving this parish.
I have stood at the chair upon which giants have sat and pastored: Flannery, McEneaney, Carroll, Mahowald, Schell, Hoerner, McGuire and so many others, deceased and living, who have labored with the people to bequeath to me, and to you, this parish.
It humbles me, and it should.
Each parish is a gracious mystery, with a past, a present and a future, and there have been so many steps along the way to this day, this moment with a new priest. With the Set Ablaze reorganization of pastorates, we are all taking a step into the future, but with an awareness of our past.
In a few weeks, many parishes will have new priests and new pastors, and this is your chance, in a new pastorate, to share your uniqueness and joy.
How can you welcome this new priest? Well, praying for him, of course, as he will pray for you. Smile when you turn to look at him standing back there. And participate in the liturgy, which means praying and saying the responses at Mass with meaning and singing with joy. Even if you have never sung at Mass before…why not start now? I promise, it makes a big difference.
Trust me, he is nervous and suspects you are as well, but he is also excited and happy to be a part of your parish family and to walk with you as you take these first steps into a new future together under the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Learn to trust him, and love him, and be patient with him, and simply be grateful for him, because he will love you and is grateful for all of you.
And pie; most priests love a good pie.