One of the qualities of our pocket parish is that lots of people have keys to the place. I guess it’s worthwhile to define what a pocket parish is. It’s what we have at our parish. We have a small (by Chicago standards these days) parish of about 600 families. Our “pocket parish” doesn’t meet a lot of the measures that have been put out by our planners. We do not have enough people on a Sunday (they’re looking for 1000 at a minimum, and we have 600 or so). They’re looking for a yearly Sunday collection of around 1 million. We’re somewhere in the area of $300,000. They want a larger staff than we’re able to afford, so that the parishes they’ve created can offer a whole gamut of ministries and activities for their people.
Well, we have a whole gamut of ministries and activities, but we don’t have staff people doing it. Who does all these activities? Our parishioners. In one of my reflections I wrote about mops and pans and rakes and brooms, etc. moving around the parish. This one is about keys!
A lot of our parishioners have keys to the place. One of our staff people once commented to me, “Why don’t you just give keys to the whole neighborhood?” She was right, in a sense. When our insurance guy comes around, we get dinged because we don’t have a list of who has keys to the front door. Let’s just say that a lot of people do. The downside is that it sacrifices a level of security. If you’re a nervous padre, you could never live in this house, that’s for sure. I remember a young padre who lived in the rectory for a while. He was pretty high on what I’d call the “paranoid” scale. Right after he moved in, he wanted window coverings for his room. God knows why, there was no way anybody could see into his room from anywhere and the windows all faced North. Makes for a pretty dark room, if you ask me. Maybe he was shy.
Anyway, he wanted some shades, and so I went to Home Depot to get some for him. I asked one of his friends from the seminary to install the shades, and he did. This guy came to me all upset because someone had been in his room. “Hey,” I told him, “Take it easy. You wanted these shades, and your buddy put them in. What’s your beef?” He calmed down, but I could tell he was a pretty high-strung guy.
After a while, he was assigned to a suburban parish as the pastor. Soon after his assignment there was a problem. He’d had all the locks changed at the rectory. He wanted to control access to the place, and there were a lot of people with keys. Sound familiar? Anyway, he changed the locks and felt more secure. One weekday morning he forgot to set his alarm. He didn’t show up for Mass, and the person who had the key for the rectory couldn’t get in. People got nervous, thinking maybe he was dead on the floor or something. They called the paramedics, who came and broke down the door to check on him. He was fine… but aggravated.
A few weeks later, he decided he wasn’t cut out for this whole pastor thing. He ended up leaving the priesthood. It was a great loss, to that parish, to the Archdiocese, and for him personally.
So, who has keys? Around here, a lot of people. What’s the advantage to this? Well, if you don’t have a big staff of paid personnel to take care of things, who can open the door for the heating guy who shows up at 7 in the morning on a Thursday morning to do routine servicing? Who can open the door in an emergency when there’s a wedding coming in and the sacristan forgot about it? Who can let the flower delivery guy in, or the plumber, or etc. etc. Around here, our staff isn’t always here on campus. And most of them live in the neighborhood. We all have lots of phone numbers to call for these kinds of things, and we often do! It’s our neighbors. Who are also our parishioners. Thanks be to God! It’s a very lively parish, and often enough the lights are on without our staff having to be here working. After all, who’s parish is it, anyway? The pastor’s? Or the people’s? Or maybe it’s a part of the Body of Christ! I think it is.