New Name, Same Faces

Jan. 19-25, 2006
New Name, Same Faces
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Mary of Mount Carmel and Blessed Sacrament Parishes Decide on a Home

UTICA — Pastors in East Utica have discussed how parishes should combine resources and work collaboratively for more than a decade. Their efforts are now bearing fruit for one parish community. The irony of the Feast of the Epiphany was not lost on the members of the pastoral councils of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church and Blessed Sacrament Church when pastor Father John Rose announced that weekend that St. Mary’s will be the worship site for the community and Blessed Sacrament Church will eventually close. And, the worship community that emerges will have a new name.

The decision was not completely unexpected. There has been a decline in the number of parishioners at Blessed Sacrament as well as a decrease in Utica’s population over the years. There are, according to Father Rose, 13 Catholic churches within Utica’s city limits. The priest shortage also had a role to play. Father Rose was assigned to St. Mary’s a couple of years ago, and as he eased into a comfortable relationship with the people at his new church, he was assigned to Blessed Sacrament as well. Two parishes sharing one pastor means he cannot be present for the people on a steady basis. “One relief is that there will be a consistent pastor for the parish,” Father Rose said.

While the decision to let go of worshipping in a familiar setting is stressful and both parishes have much grief to work through, Father Rose is convinced that a new birth will come of this pain. “Grief of any kind can tap into your personal grief and there are layers and layers to go through. But, we have to do it and we’ll do it together,” he said.

Father James Lang, Vicar for Parishes, knows how difficult the process is for church communities who are trying to come together. “Father Rose has done a great job. It’s difficult for a group to pull together but they have done it with a good deal of finesse,” he said.

Sister Betty Giarusso, CSJ, is Parish Life Coordinator for Blessed Sacrament Church, and she has traveled down the road to the future with the people of the parish. One of the experiences she has enjoyed about the process is observing the two pastoral councils coming together. She explained that Bishop James Moynihan asked in early October 2005 that the two parishes to determine a single location for worship and that they submit a recommendation to him by Feb. 1, 2006.

Father Rose and Sister Betty shared the request with the pastoral councils the weekend after the bishop’s directive arrived. From that point on, the councils held joint meetings. Since that date in October, there were five open forums and more meetings of the councils took place. Finally an all-day meeting and day of reflection were held at which time the councils would have to come to consensus on what recommendation they would give the bishop. Brother Ed Falsey, OFM Conv., from the Southern Tier was there to facilitate that day. Brother Ed went through the process of joining three parish communities in the Binghamton area within the last two years and Sister Betty said his help was invaluable.

“We agreed that any decisions we made would have to be done by consensus and 80 percent would have to agree before any decision would happen,” Sister Betty said. That day, two recommendations evolved: that St. Mary of Mount Carmel would become the permanent weekend worship site for both churches and that St. Mary of Mount Carmel and Blessed Sacrament Churches would become one parish community with a new name. Ultimately, coming to agreement was not as difficult as one might imagine. The vote for the first issue was 16-3, and the second vote was 15-4.

“While we are grieving and mourning what happened that day, there was a rightness to it,” Sister Betty explained. “I believe each of them [members of the councils] have love and commitment to their parishes, but also to the faith that we share. So, they let go for the common good.” Father Rose said it is difficult to embrace something new when parishioners are so accustomed to being comfortable at their parishes. “Moses led the people out of the desert and they grumbled because it wasn’t what they expected. The invitation is always to insecurity,” he said. Even though the two parishes are losing a church building and the name of the churches, they are being formed and shaped as people by God, Father Rose said.

In his bulletin message on a recent Sunday Father Rose noted that throughout the Scriptures when God chooses someone for a new venture or a new beginning, He often changes their name. The call of God to Abram as he became Abraham, the call of Jesus to Simon who became Peter, the name chosen by those making the sacrament of confirmation and name those in religious life take on are a few examples.

The compromising nature of buildings was also highlighted as Father Rose put the situation in a different perspective by reminding the parishioners about all the church structures destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. “We’ve had the luxury of choosing between two churches,” he said. The Utica parishes are currently supporting a parish in New Orleans. That church community recently celebrated its first liturgy in their church building since Katrina took place, Father Rose said. “There were 325 people there on the first Sunday of Advent. They had no pews, no electricity. They sat on folding chairs,” he said.

On July 1, 2006 Blessed Sacrament and St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Churches will, upon approval by Bishop Moynihan, become one community.

“The new name of the new community being formed will signify that this is not simply an absorption or assimilation of one church by another, but a truly new, creative adventure,” Father Rose wrote to his parishioners. There is God’s hand in this work, Father Rose said. “We as a community will pull together and God is with us during this transition,” he said. “My guess is that we will become an even stronger community and that Our Lady is with us. We should bring our feelings of loss and anger to Mary and to Christ and have those feelings transformed. There is value in pain. It does prepare us for something deeper, for a way in which God may want to use us.”

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