Full speed ahead

Sunday 13 May 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — 46th anniversary of my ordination

A growing number of parishes in our diocese have now set sail on “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope,” the diocesan initiative of pastoral strategizing. The fleet, dear readers, includes all three churches here in the town of Falmouth. It may also include the parish to which you belong. Eventually, all parishes will embark on the journey. I find this voyage exciting. 

It’s also a great deal of work. 

There is a television commercial for a company called CARFAX, Inc. The company provides facts and information to people looking to purchase a car. The corporate motto is “Show me the CARFAX!” Well, “Show me the CHURCHFAX!” — that’s my motto. The diocese and its parishes have spent years collecting and reviewing facts on pastoral ministry on Cape Cod, the Islands, and Southeastern Massachusetts. There are literally reams of information. 

On a whim, I combined the CHURCHFAX for all three Falmouth parishes. The results were astonishing. The Catholic Church in the town of Falmouth has three parish priests and three deacons assigned, three parish staffs, five worship sites, four rectories, and two cemeteries. 

There is a shared ministry to a 95-bed hospital with an extensive emergency room. There are two additional deacons assigned as chaplains at the hospital. There is a pastoral ministry to four nursing homes (with a current combined total of 331 beds). There are an estimated 3,700 Catholic households in town, including more than 400 school-aged children. On top of all that, Falmouth has huge numbers of seasonal visitors and increasing numbers of seasonal residents. 

As for the Sacraments, in the summer months, the three parishes celebrate 19 weekend Masses and, in the winter, 10. There are at least two, if not three, weekday Masses available year-round. Here at St. Patrick, we have about 100 people at daily Mass this time of year. Falmouth Catholic churches average about 90 Baptisms, 50 Marriages, and 180 funerals a year. (Cape Cod has an aging population).

Catholics in this town are remarkable for their charitable giving. Last year, the Catholics of Falmouth donated $270,370 to the diocesan-wide Charities Appeal. There is an active outreach to the local poor and needy. 

These are the CHURCHFAX. They’re enough to make your head spin.

As in many parishes throughout the diocese, our Parish Planning Team has been meeting to study the CHURCHFAX. It’s an enormous task. Thank heavens for the assistance of Marilyn Blanchette and Mark Dollhoph, the diocesan consultants on strategic planning.

It took much discussion for the Parish Planning Team to develop an agenda for a parish-wide assembly on strategic planning. The agenda is now finalized and the date of the assembly has been set. The meeting will last about 90 minutes. Parishioners were provided with the agenda well in advance of the assembly. Each member of the Parish Planning Team will help guide the discussion and there will be remarks from diocesan representatives. There will be lots of facts on the Catholic presence in Falmouth and on the ministry, outreach, and finances of this particular parish.

People have already indicated, through the instrument of a survey, what they think the parish is doing well and in what areas the parish might improve. Their comments will be mirrored back to the assembly. Beyond that, is there anything the Catholic Church in Falmouth is not now doing but should be doing? How can the Catholic parishes of Falmouth cooperate and collaborate to accomplish the tasks at hand? Opportunity for feedback from parishioners is built in.

This is not a one-size-fits-all agenda. Each parish needs to set its own agenda because each parish is in a different situation. In the end, recommendations from parishioners will be made to the bishop so that he will be better able to make an informed decision with an eye towards the future of the Church not only in Falmouth but throughout the diocese. 

I have begun my 47th year in the priesthood. I have seen many changes over the years. 

On the day I was ordained, there were 115 parish churches in the Diocese of Fall River. Each had its own pastor and many had additional priests assigned as parochial vicars (formerly called curates). There are now 82 parishes. Thirty-three parishes have closed or merged. Of the 82 remaining, 16 are currently operating with only one priest serving two or three separate parishes. 

These are the CHURCHFAX.

The question arising in my generation had to do with discerning which parish churches needed to close and which needed to merge. I myself have pastored the closing and merger of two parishes, as have several of my brother priests.

The question facing this generation in not so much which parishes should close or merge. The question today is how do we better collaborate so that, working together, we can grow the Church. In this time and place, a new vision of what it means to be “Church” is emerging. 

These are hopeful times. The opportunity to rebuild the Church is a rare blessing. 

“Full speed ahead!” — That’s my motto.

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts