WILDWOOD CREST — Parishioners at the borough’s Church of the Assumption are fighting to keep their spiritual identity as many churches in the Diocese of Camden are looking toward restructuring.
Nicholas Nastasi, a parishioner who sat for seven years as an Assumption trustee, said a possible merger with St. Ann’s Church in Wildwood would tear the borough’s parish “apart at the foundation.”
A parish merger is one of many possibilities that some churches face during a process by the diocese called “gathering God’s gifts.” The restructuring is a response by the Catholic Church that has more parishes than there are worshipers, priests, or money to sustain them.
Nastasi said that there is no doubt that some churches are on financially shaky ground and lacking in worshipers.
The Church of the Assumption, which has existed for over 45 years in the borough, Nastasi said, is not in that category.
“There are 1,100 families that come to worship here,” he told the Herald Nov. 1. “We have an active spiritual life and we’re financially stable.”
According to Nastasi, the church also has dealt with shortage of priests by contracting retired priests in the county and has always worked well with neighboring St. Ann’s in coordinating mass times.
“We’re united in spirituality,” he said.
If a merger were to take place, St. Ann’s would absorb the neighboring parish as well as its finances.
“We [Church of the Assumption] have a choir, prayer groups, youth groups…how are we going to just fit into St. Ann’s already existing groups with their own schedules,” said Nastasi.
“The Bishop doesn’t seem to understand the mentality of the people who live here,” he added. “It goes beyond just the inconvenience of driving into the next town and dealing with parking. We have a fivemile island with four mayors. People have a sense of individuality here.”
Parish planning teams began meeting in May in order to consider new models in dealing with the changing demographic in the Catholic population. The models include mergers, clusters, in which a parish is linked and a pastor is given responsibility for two or three parishes and one priest on parish models.
The Church of the Assumption’s planning group’s choice was the one priest, on parish model.
According to literature given out by the diocese, “the single parish with its own pastor will be possible only in a large, active parish, in a geographically isolated location, or in extremely unusual and temporary circumstances.”
“Our choice was not affirmed,” said Nastasi. “Basically that’s their way of saying no.”
St. Ann’s planning team offered the cluster model as their first choice.
“In this model a pastor is given the responsibility for two or three parishes. New staff usually needs to be added, such as a parish administrator, a business administrator, and/or a parish ministry coordinator for one or more of the sites,” according to a model description.
That choice was also turned down, said Nastasi.
“Gathering God’s gift’s is a plan not just for one parish, but the entire area of the diocese,” said Andrew Walton, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Camden. “The goal is to enrich the entire aspect of parish life.”
Walton said that many people equate a strong parish with one that has a strong financial base. But, he said, that isn’t always the case.
“Does the church have a youth ministry program with paid trained professionals?” he asked as an example. “Does it offer grief counseling?”
One of the main issues, Walton said, is in ten years, the Catholic Church estimates that the number of available priests will be cut in half. Shifts in population and diversity of parishioners also merit necessary change.
“There just won’t be enough priest to support the one priest one parish model,” he said.
“The natural tendency is to protect what you have always done, but it is a challenge to step outside your own parish and do what is best for the area,” he noted.
“Other forms of configuration might actually serve some parishes better,” added Walton.
According to Walton, the borough’s church shouldn’t worry about changes occurring in the near future.
“No decision has been made for any parish,” he said. “This is still the planning process. Final recommendations are due in January 2008 and the earliest that any decision might be reached is May 2008.”
But Nastasi said he isn’t placated by that schedule. He is working on a petition, which he said half the parish has already signed, and a letter to send to the Bishop Joseph Galante to plead the church’s case.
If that route doesn’t work, Nastasi said that he was prepared to take the appeal “all the way to the Vatican.”
“You can’t have a group of planners tell 1100 families that they have to go worship somewhere else,” he added. “The people in the parish should have a say in this.”
Contact Suit at: (609) 886-8600 ext. 25 or email@example.com
Cape May – Look around your neighborhood and it is easy to see where the messies live. Yes, they clearly ruin a good neighborhood with their reckless way of life. Now, look at the way of our country. It is…