By Faria Sookdeo
I was moved by Father Christopher Heanue’s “The Heart of a Priest Changing Assignments” (in the June 5 edition of The Tablet). It is refreshing to hear the genuine reaction of a pastor who is changing assignments. As parishioners, sometimes, we forget that they too have sentiments. It is good to recognize and remember that changing pastors is two-fold. This is from the perspective of a parishioner.
In May 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, we received a message that my pastor was being transferred to another parish. To say the least, many of us were devastated. As the message spread, various emotions were expressed as is usual when pastors are changed.
Parishioners feel sadness, anger, and even betrayal. People form bonds with their pastor, especially if he performed their sacraments and helped their families in various ways.
Others like their pastor because he handles the parish effectively: demonstrating transparency with financial issues, adhering to canons of liturgical celebrations, accommodating various cultural traditions, providing spiritual development, being kind and attuned to people’s needs, etc.
Many parishioners also feel that supporting a new pastor means disloyalty to their predecessor. For many, it is difficult to let go of the familiarity and comfort of the past. For others, it is about the future.
The biggest questions usually are what and who will the new pastor change? How much will he change? How soon will the changes take place? Will the changes be beneficial to the parish? Potentially, many parishioners have to re-adjust to a new personality and ways of managing the parish. The new pastor, of course, also is faced with a period of adjustment. A very delicate balance of charity and compassion is required between the incoming pastor and the parishioners. Above and beyond, faith is required.
We are, after all, people of Catholic faith, serving God in His church. When changes happen, turn to Jesus for guidance. As He said to Mary Magdalene, “Do not cling to me” (John, 20:17). Jesus needed to complete His mission. In the same way, each pastor has a mission. It is okay to express emotions, but we must let go. Admittedly, when it comes to separating from people we love, that is easier said than done.
For both outgoing and incoming pastors, and our own spiritual growth, we must, however, strive. Pray, and trust in God’s will. Support the newly appointed pastor; he too is transitioning.
As Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” I would like to add that the only constant is “Jesus Christ, [who] is the same yesterday, and today and forever,” (Hebrews, 13:8).
Let us keep our focus on Him, not this temporary world.
Faria Sookdeo is a parishioner at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jamaica.