This past weekend I shared the news that I will be leaving Holy Spirit Parish for St. Anne Parish in Wausau in early July. This news might have been as surprising to our parishioners as it was to me.
Obviously, I’ve been aware of the move since Bishop Callahan called in mid-April to talk with me about a potential transfer of assignments. Regardless, leaving our parish hadn’t seemed like a likely, or even reasonable, possibility.
After all, we are nearing the beginning of only the fourth year of our new parish, the unification process is still something that’s under way, not completed. More immediately, we have just completed the campaign for our Building Upon a Firm Foundation project and begun initiating more focused preparations for the initial phases of that project and the sale of the Newman Center.
It would not seem, as I mentioned to the Bishop, that this is the right time. But, I responded to my own remark so that he wouldn’t have to: “Well, Tom, when is there a right time?”
The Parish Center project is understandably a significant concern that’s been expressed since I made the announcement, and even prior to that during the campaign. “What happens if/when Fr. Tom leaves Holy Spirit?” was a frequent question. A few parishioners raised that point with me when I met with them seeking their financial support. My answer then and now is the same: The project must continue! We’ve done too much work and there is too much support within the parish to do otherwise. We need to make necessary improvements to the church and we desperately need the opportunities offered by our proposed center.
Thankfully, Fr. Steve Brice, Holy Spirit’s new pastor, has considerable experience with similar projects. He was pastor of St. Anne Parish in Wausau, during a time of a building project far more substantial than our’s. Gratefully, he’s not only willing to accept this assignment, but I know he’s also enthusiastic about the tremendous benefits that Building Upon a Firm Foundation will bring the parish.
In terms of the evolving life of our relatively new parish, this might be just the right time for a new pastor to come on the scene. He will bring new perspective, new ideas and a new pastoral sense to what has already been accomplished, and what might be pursued. And how.
Parish unification, as I’ve come to discover, is a balancing act as we create something new while honoring valuable components of our past. Sometimes my attempts at balancing have been more successful and at other times, I acknowledge and regret, somewhat painful. A new pastor arrives as a clean slate — he to the parish and the parish to him. There’s benefit in that.
Which is not to minimize the challenge of transition. Regardless of how advantageous the arrival of a new pastor might be, the adage “change is difficult” certainly holds true. The significance of patience, of understanding, of acceptance in welcoming a new pastor cannot be understated. Nor the sadness of parting, on my part, as I leave our parish and Stevens Point, which is something I have not even begun to comprehend. I have been in Stevens Point longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life — 21 years — and, while I am not the longest serving pastor in the diocese at the moment, I am close. Approaching my final weekend on July 1, I’ll observe more as to the joys and heartaches of these years, much like life itself, but for now I’d urge that we embrace the goodness and potential that awaits us all: a relatively new parish with a generous and skilled pastor, and a grateful pastor anticipating new ministry in a new place. Good things to ponder as we celebrate spring! TL