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Patience and planning are key aspects of parish life

The Holy Spirit can guide us in our new parish configurations if we remain open to where He leads us

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Imagine you had assembled all the ingredients for a cake — butter, sugar, eggs, flour and so on — and placed them side by side in a cake pan. Someone with no knowledge of baking might look at the collection of ingredients and say: “I don’t see how this could possibly become a cake, no matter how long you put this collection in the oven.”

The ingredients by themselves — apart from the process of blending and mixing — can’t turn into a cake, no matter how long you leave them next to each other or put them in the oven. Baking is about process and time. So is a lot of parish life!

As some parishes move into new configurations — or even parishes that remain as they were — and start reenvisioning what parish life is about, we need to take those two realities — process and time — more seriously than we’ve ever done before.

Process matters in baking; the same is true in human relations and parish life. Just because our new configurations have been announced doesn’t mean everything is done. That would be like placing ingredients side-by-side and expecting them to be a cake! A mechanical mindset expects things to work perfectly just because all the parts are there. Human relations don’t work that way! Parishes that have been through the experience will tell you the same thing that professional sports teams have learned: It takes time for a group of people — even the best people — to learn to work together. We have to be patient with that learning curve.

A planning mindset is another thing we need to be careful about. Of course, planning is essential! But a planning mentality can also be a drawback if we expect everything to be laid out with metrics and benchmarks. Don’t get me wrong: Metrics and benchmarks are helpful. But some things like human relations and team dynamics are more organic. We don’t set metrics and benchmarks for friendships, for example! Teamwork, evangelization and discipleship are similarly complex realities. Here, again, patience with the process is crucial if we want good outcomes.

The good news is that the Holy Spirit can “get into the mix” with our processes if we’re open to it. But that takes a deliberate shift of focus. We tell young seminarians, if you have all the right answers, but miss the person, that’s a pastoral failure. Similarly, a parish might produce a new mission statement or strategic plan but fail to foster genuine community. If the process lacks patience, the outcome will lack depth.

Melt the butter. Blend in the sugar. Crack the eggs, beat them lightly and stir them into the mix. Good bakers are deliberate about each step and patient with the process; that’s precisely what ensures a good outcome! I pray that our parish planning in the coming years will be no less deliberate and patient.

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