"Our Parish Never Closed"

Walking with Leaders - August 28th, 2020

"Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." (James 1:2-3)

Parish leadership balances heart, mind, and spirit to serve parishioners through the pandemic

Saints Simon and Jude is a parish in West Chester, PA. The parish has 3800 registered families. Before the pandemic, the parish offered 1000 different ministries. When the circumstances of the pandemic threatened to shut down the parish, they responded in faith and humility. The leadership team of Father Mike Gerlach, Pastor; Marty Harris, Parish Services Director; and Sister Barbara Jude Gentry IHM, Religious Education Office/P.R.E.P asked for help from Catholic Leadership Institute, and they started meeting and planning right away.

“One of the keys to this team's success is that it is balanced in heart, mind and spirit,” writes Jim Goodell (CLI Leadership Consultant), “Father offers how we should serve during this challenging time, coaching his volunteers on a servant's heart.  Marty actively seeks best practices.  She is a prompt communicator and a developer of procedures/processes.  Sister Barbara Jude is open to new ideas and shows a willingness to try new programs/processes.  She also is a cheerleader for Jesus with a contagious joy.”

“Saints Simon and Jude parish never closed,” said Fr. Michael Gerlach, pastor. “We stay open until 9PM at night. I think that is one of the reasons we have maintained our parish community. By providing a space for prayer and adoration every day, parishioners were able to stay connected to us. We rearranged our Mass schedule to five Masses per weekend with two hours between each Mass to allow for sanitizing the space.”

I was inspired by my conversation with Fr. Michael and Marty Harris as they thought back to April. “All the rules and regulations kept changing,” Marty explains. “We met with our Catholic Leadership Institute consultant and also had a Zoom meeting with our ministry leaders to assess who was ready to return and help with Mass celebration.”

Marty recalls, “As Jim Goodell talked with us, I was reminded about the Tending the Talents class from Catholic Leadership Institute that I attended in the past. I was able to apply some of the leadership training. Jim’s own parish was a few weeks ahead of ours in re-opening for Mass, and he was able to share his own experience there, which gave us practical ideas on what we should do.”

In addition to well-planned webinars and materials provided from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Catholic Leadership Institute provided resources to help the parish connect with parishioners and with other parishes to share resources, day-to-day practical tips, and coaching on how to handle conflict.

Fr. Michael continues to look ahead. The parish is planning more outreach through Constant Contact email, phone calls, and direct mail. The ministry leaders hold regular Zoom meetings with their respective groups to talk about what is happening and what can be done better. Father sums it up as he recalls a statement from past meetings: “Even if you are going in the right direction, if you stand there long enough, sooner or later you get run over.”

Jim Goodell says this team has been an encouragement to him around what parish leadership should strive to be. I completely agree!

by Terry Poplava

Aug 27, 2020

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