How to live through change in your parish

Whether we want to admit it or not, life is full of changes. Some changes are easy, fun, and helpful: trying a different hairstyle, buying a new car, learning a new skill, landing a new job. Some changes challenge us — losing weight or quitting smoking — or transform us, like letting go of a grudge or adjusting our attitudes from negative to positive.

But one kind of change that many people can find difficult to accept is change in their parish. Large or small, changes in a parish can upset our spiritual and emotional equilibrium.

Maybe the current pastor is leaving. Maybe the church is undergoing renovations. Maybe Mass times are changing. Maybe the new music director is introducing new hymns. Maybe someone made a new rule or set up a different way of doing things. Maybe your parish is linking or clustering. Or, maybe you’ve received the heartbreaking news that your parish will close — probably the hardest change of all to comprehend.

We normally “roll with the punches” when life sends us change, but changes in our parish affect us more deeply. We turn to the church for comfort and stability when our lives are in turmoil, so when the turmoil happens within our church family, we can feel as if we’ve lost an “anchor.” None of us wants to lose the familiar. We fear the unknown, the areas outside of our spiritual and emotional comfort zone.

Often, we realize after the fact that change — as much as we may dislike it — can actually lead to spiritual growth. The question is how to work through the change to find that spiritual benefit.

Understanding change

Change involves letting go, moving through a transition, and eventually adjusting to some new reality — emotional steps that are not unlike the grieving process.

Our initial reaction to a proposed change can be sharply negative, wondering how something like this could happen or thinking the worst. As planning for the change begins, we begin to wonder how we might be affected by the change, we may feel angry or betrayed, or we may try to think of ways to stop the change from happening. When the change occurs, our emotions shift again. We may have a sense of loss, experience a crisis of faith or lose heart.

Dealing with change

While it is important to recognize the emotions associated with change, no matter what we say or do, we’re not likely to be able to stop it. So, rather than walk away from, fight, or complain about the change, we might want to take a different approach: asking questions and listening to the answers with an open mind. Why is the change necessary? When will it happen? How will it be implemented? What good things are expected from it? What new opportunities might it bring?

The answers to these questions might, in turn, bring about a shift in our perspective. What if I believed this change was good? How would a positive attitude affect my behavior? What can I do that’s positive?

Change for the better: How to take positive action

— Get involved. When it became clear that a change in Mass schedule was needed, one parish asked everyone to vote on several options. The change was made in favor of the majority.

— Incorporate the past into the present. When a music minister found out that people were upset about the new music, he agreed to include an old favorite in every Mass.

— Let go of the old. Whether it’s a change in pastor, a church remodeling, or a parish closing, many parishes plan a final Mass with a coffee social or reception to mark the passing from the old to the new. It allows people to talk about the past and how they plan to adjust in the future.

— Preserve the past. It’s not uncommon when closing, merging, remodeling or constructing a new church for parishes to incorporate statues, stained glass and other reminders of the past into future plans.

— Make memories. Create a memory book with photos and stories. The book can be kept in the parish library, posted on the parish website, reproduced so families can have a copy or given as a gift to the former pastor.

The spiritual side of change

Change awakens our trust in divine providence. St. Paul assures us that “all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28). Can we trust that God will make everything right? Can we believe that something good can come from this?

In times of change, we need to remember to ask not what we want, but what God wants. Like Jesus, we may ask God to stop this from happening (Mt 26:39). But we must finish the prayer as Jesus did, by saying, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done” (Mt 26:42).

The fascinating thing about being open to God’s will is that it allows the Holy Spirit to lead us in directions we would never have chosen for ourselves. We meet new people, learn something new, or experience something unexpected. Thus, change becomes our personal re-enactment of the paschal mystery; the hard reality is that, like Jesus, we must die to our former life before we can be raised to new life.

Praying through change

Prayer is the key that unlocks our resistance to change. Prayer shifts the burden of change into God’s hands. It eases discomfort, erases fears and helps us see from a different perspective.

Prayer opens our minds, hearts and souls. Prayer gives God the opportunity to fill us with deep inner peace. It is a gift of grace from a loving God.

Through the miracle of grace, prayer changes our lives and touches the lives of people around us. Prayer instills in us an appreciation for the good things change brings and gratitude for the good things God continues to do for us.


Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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