In some parishes, they dread it. In others, it can’t come soon enough. It is the year a parish community gets a new pastor.
Like many others, our diocese sets terms for pastors. A priest is appointed to serve for a six-year term, after which he may elect to stay on for another six. After two terms, he must move on. No choice. No whining. You either throw a teary-eyed party for Father Wonderful, or you tell Father Nightmare to beat it out the back door. I detest this policy.
To be fair, it does keep priests moving around on the shelves, reducing the likelihood of anyone going stale. It’s also a chance to spread the wealth of a gifted minister, as well as to be sure that the dead weight of the less-than-talented does not put a stress on any one single community for too long. It might also give personnel boards more to work with as they seasonally shuffle the assignment deck. I do understand the advantages.
To me, however, this kind of policy sometimes seems to reduce the pastoral relationship to a kind of computer chip that is merely moved from one circuit board to another, regardless of measure and fit. Every parish is different. Each has its own culture, which takes time and patience to discover. For me, it takes a couple of years to figure out the dynamics of a community in order to apply a more effective strategic plan for ministry. Often, just as goals are finally being realized, it’s time to leave and start all over again. It can be tough to summon the energy and enthusiasm to start all over again.
My biggest gripe with the policy is that it tends to leave out the human factor. When so much around us is automated and systematized, the informal and personal is refreshing. Why not admit several men and women to the personnel board whose sole responsibility is to meet occasionally with pastors over a cup of coffee and discuss how the “pastoring” is going? Granted, these individuals would have to have the personality suited for this kind of work—non-threatening, perceptive, fearless!—but this kind of care and dialogue might well head off a disaster before it begins, or even extend a good thing when it’s happening. I realize this sounds too utterly simplistic to be of any real value, and yet, a touch of the pastoral in an otherwise corporate policy is what I believe is needed.