By Brenda Hopf
As I read Karen Muensterman’s article in this column on June 21, I felt a wave of unexpected emotion radiate throughout my body as tears welled up in my eyes. I was puzzled as to why her words had provoked this response in me. As I pondered the thoughts she shared about changes involving two of her former pastors, Father Ray Brenner and Father Phil Kreilein, and the “new guy” assigned to her parish, Father Jerry Pratt, several possible reasons came to mind as to why my heart was touched so deeply.
One possible reason for my reaction was that the parish of which I am a member is experiencing some changes like Karen’s parish, not unlike many parishes in our diocesan family. Our Divine Mercy Parish family had to say goodbye to Father Christopher Droste, a young priest who was ordained a mere six years ago. We were so very fortunate to be the recipient of the gifts God bestowed on him, which he so willingly shared with our parish family. Father Christopher is a man with such a caring heart who feels so deeply that if you allowed yourself, you could be drawn into his sincere and sometimes tearful emotion. Experiencing a young, newly ordained priest is not something the communities of our parish had experienced as far back as my lifetime membership here goes and, without giving away my age, let’s just say that it is a very long time.
Another possible reason for my emotional reaction as I read Karen’s article may have been the unexpected news that Divine Mercy Parish would not only be sending Father Christopher on to another parish, but there would not be a priest available to replace him as our pastor. We have been assigned a Pastoral Life Coordinator, Janie Kempf, a current member of our parish family. While I feel sad that we will not have a pastor, anxiety for Janie as to what she might face as our pastoral leader and just simply the natural human fear of the unknown, I am confident that Divine Mercy Parish will continue to be a vibrant, faith-filled parish.
Many parishes here in our diocesan family are experiencing very similar situations as Karen described in her article and what I have just shared with you about my parish family. Wherever you are, whatever you are experiencing in the life of your parish, there is something that we all share in common and need to be reminded of often; that is the fact that we are all a part of the body of Christ, keyword being part. Yes, each one of us is a part of something big and something very important in the life of the church; and without our willingness to share the gifts of our part, the body cannot properly function.
It is so easy to overlook or completely forget that each of us is an integral part of that body – the body of the church, the body of Christ. By the weakness of our human nature, we have a tendency to judge the leadership of our parishes, whether that be a pastor or a pastoral life coordinator or even the retired priests who fill in when a pastor cannot be there. Many of us, myself included, tend to assess the life of our parish and then place blame for what is lacking on our pastoral leadership when, in fact, they are only a part of the body of Christ of which we are all members. Each one of our pastoral leaders has been given gifts to be shared for the good of the church. What we often fail to remember is that we also have been given special gifts to be shared to make the church here on earth what it is truly meant to be. Without our part, the church is not whole and the body will not function as Christ intends.
Let’s just be real. We all do it; regardless of whether we say it out loud, the thoughts are there. We size up the pastoral leadership, basing what we think they are doing right or wrong mostly on our own personal needs and wants; and if we can’t check off everything on our list, we may simply throw our arms in the air and wait for the next pastor. Or maybe we love our pastor and we do not want to give him up and let him share his gifts with another parish. Either way, there’s something wrong with this picture. With all the pastoral changes that just took place in our diocesan family, maybe this would be a good time to challenge ourselves to prayerfully discern how we might share the unique gifts we have been given so that the body of Christ can function properly. Let’s love our pastoral leadership for the gifts they have to offer us, and let us soak up every one of those gifts while they are a part of our parish family. When they move on, let us gladly share them with the next parish to which they are assigned. Through prayer and discernment may we come to know our gifts and how we might respectfully use them to complete all the parts of the body of Christ. We might do well to ask ourselves when our pastoral leader does not meet all the criteria on our checklist, “Am I the missing part?”
Brenda Hopf is a member of Divine Mercy Parish in Dubois County and also contributes to the “Sharing the Load” column in The Message.