By Father Don Wagner
“Father, we need to clone three of you,” said a parishioner one Sunday morning as I was putting on my jacket in the sacristy of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Isanti. I turned to the woman and said, “Be careful what you ask for, one of me is enough to deal with.” We shared a laugh and I headed out the door for the 10:30 a.m. Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul in Braham.
I became pastor of Christ the King in Cambridge and Sts. Peter and Paul in July 2013. In July 2014, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Isanti was added to the parish cluster. I was fortunate to have the assistance of Father John Knopik, Father Gabriel Walz and Father Derek Wiechmann over the span of the next four years. In July 2018, the responsibility of the three parishes fell solely on my shoulders.
The reality of me becoming pastor of three parishes without the assistance of another priest necessitated a number of changes that needed to happen. Prior to July 2018, parishioners, including staff, trustees and council members, gathered to establish a new Mass schedule, a reduction from six to three Masses. The discussion brought about a good exchange of ideas and, while no single parish got everything it may have wanted, a consensus was reached on the Mass schedule.
That was step one — a significant one that set the tone for further planning that quickly followed. I gathered the pastoral and finance councils of each parish and proposed the following plan:
Instead of each parish meeting separately every other month, we would all meet on the same date at one of the parishes on a rotating basis. A typical scheduled meeting format looks like this: 5:45-6:30 p.m., the finance councils meet. At 6:30 p.m., we share a potluck supper. At 7 p.m., we all gather for prayer. As pastor, I then share with the entire group information that is pertinent for all parishes. This includes diocesan updates, holy day Mass schedules, faith formation announcements, festival information, etc. After that, each parish breaks out into its own meeting. I move between the councils to receive input about the topics of discussion.
Six meetings instead of 18 meetings a year have been more productive and unifying. It also frees me for other ministry in the parishes. This has led to “One Accord,” a combined faith formation program with shared resources and talents. The focus has been on “whole family faith formation,” with parent and lay involvement. Parents have the option of bringing their children to either a Wednesday evening or Sunday class. If you miss a Sunday, you can simply connect at the Wednesday evening class where the same instruction is offered. Edge and Life Teen youth gather at one parish and are forming new relationships among themselves.
While each individual parish has eucharistic adoration hours, adorers from all three parishes participate in perpetual adoration in the Mercy Chapel at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. This has richly blessed our Area Catholic Community.
As ACCs continue or begin to work together around the diocese, what seems to be “impossible” can open up new ways of doing things together as the Body of Christ. One idea leads to another. Come, Holy Spirit, come!