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Father Steve Lian jokingly joined in the judging of a spring bonnet contest with, from left, Marion Zebas, Mary Lou Watson, Faye Byrd and Barb Cox during a Silver Saints gathering April 24 at the Knights of Columbus hall near Hillsboro. The Silver Saints gathering brought together parishioners from Our Lady in Festus, Sacred Heart in Crystal City and Good Shepherd in Hillsboro.
Father Steve Lian jokingly joined in the judging of a spring bonnet contest with, from left, Marion Zebas, Mary Lou Watson, Faye Byrd and Barb Cox during a Silver Saints gathering April 24 at the Knights of Columbus hall near Hillsboro. The Silver Saints gathering brought together parishioners from Our Lady in Festus, Sacred Heart in Crystal City and Good Shepherd in Hillsboro.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Jefferson County parishes united under one pastor find renewed vibrant ministries through collaboration

On a Saturday morning this spring, parishioners from Our Lady in Festus, Sacred Heart in Crystal City and Good Shepherd in Hillsboro gathered around tables in Our Lady’s cafeteria.

Grace Molaro, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Crystal City, smiled as people clapped for her during a spring bonnet contest during a Silver Saints gathering April 24. Barb Cox, a parishioner at Good Shepherd in Hillsboro, was behind Molaro.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Each person stood to introduce themselves and share their parish involvement: Choir. Christian initiation team. Respect life committee. Finance council. St. Vincent de Paul Society. Youth ministry. Knights of Columbus. Money counters. Eucharistic adoration. Fish fry cook.

They were there to bring their wealth of varied experience together under a common mission.

“That’s what today is about: How do we help people get one step closer to Jesus?” said David Baranowski, evangelization liaison for the Southern Vicariate and archdiocesan director of stewardship.

Since Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski announced parish changes on Pentecost one year ago as part of All Things New, the Our Lady, Sacred Heart and Good Shepherd communities have found new ways to collaborate toward that common mission.

While each parish remains its own entity, they were for the first time grouped together under a single pastor: Father Michael Boehm, with associate pastor Father Steve Lian and episcopal vicar Father Michael Lydon in residence.

When Father Boehm arrived in August, he formed a tri-parish team with three members from each of the three parishes to explore opportunities to work together.

“From the beginning, we wanted to respect the individual parishes and their traditions, but then to think about: What are the ways that we can collaborate and cooperate?” he said.

First, they tackled Mass schedules. Sacred Heart and Our Lady — which are about five minutes apart by car — had nearly identical Mass times, for example, so they split the times between the parishes.

To help parishes shift to a unified mindset, the tri-parish team wrote a mission statement: “Disciples working together to know, love and serve Christ.”

On a practical level, they combined their bulletins to streamline communication about events and ministries.

Then, they started discerning where to create vibrant, unified ministries rather than simply duplicating smaller versions at each location, said Diana Parker, Our Lady parishioner and member of the tri-parish team.

“Each parish really has strengths that are unique to that parish, certain ministries that are really strong,” she said.

In the fall, the senior ministries at Good Shepherd and Our Lady combined forces. Good Shepherd’s Silver Saints previously averaged about 25-30 people at each event, while Our Lady’s Young at Heart group had about 15-20. The most recent spring gathering welcomed more than 70 people from all three parishes, said Silver Saints leader Barb Cox.

“It’s good for everybody,” Cox said. “There’s good camaraderie between the groups, and we do everything we can to co-mingle.”

On the other end of the age spectrum, the parishes have focused on one youth group. Good Shepherd has had a stable youth ministry program for about 15 years, while Our Lady and Sacred Heart had mixed success with drawing enough teens, said youth minister Jessica Mayer. So, rather than spreading volunteers thin to support separate groups, the parishes formed Ignite Youth Ministry to serve teens across the parishes.

“I’ve always been a big proponent of, we’re all one body of Christ. And who cares about this boundary here, this boundary here,” Mayer said. “And God has really provided (our team) with some really strong spiritual and dynamic people … it’s been so life-giving and affirming.”

“I feel like I’ve met more people in the last few months than I have in years,” she added.

Our Lady parishioner Zech Shoults had been part of previous youth ministry conversations at his parish and now serves on the Ignite Youth Ministry core team.

“I see the youth as leading this, in a sense, of giving the adults a vision that, well, the youth can get together and do all these activities — we can be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church,” he said.

Sacred Heart and Our Lady began offering combined ACTS retreats before All Things New was even announced. So when Good Shepherd expressed interest in the retreats, it made sense to bring them on board and form Trinity ACTS, said Sacred Heart parishioner Fran Nicholson.

The retreats have helped build bridges among parishioners over the years, making it easier to start collaborating in other ways now, too, she added. “(Jesus) wants us to be in community. These are my sisters, too. It’s not just about my parish.”

As the parishes continue to discern how best to use their gifts and resources to draw others to Jesus, the community benefits from the wider pool of “energetic and enthusiastic volunteers willing to do what it takes to do the work of evangelization” Father Boehm said.

“I’ve felt nothing but support and encouragement and prayer from the folks of all three parishes, so I’m really, really grateful for them,” he added. “I don’t think anybody knew what to expect — that was the toughest part coming into it. But they are willing to be flexible enough to make it work.”

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