Walking with Leaders - August 6th, 2020

"What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (Jn 1:3-5)

Pastor focuses on the Light of Faith to Lead Out of the Darkness of the Pandemic

On this Feast of the Transfiguration – signifying the day Christ’s radiant glory shined through His humanity – it is fitting to be able to share a story about a pastor who is a source of light in his parish. Saints Peter and Paul Parish is one of the 13 parishes in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend that are partaking in the Next Generation Parish experience. They had just completed the Disciple Maker Index survey asking parishioners to reflect on their faith journey and were about to begin their parish discernment when the doors were closed.

Doors Close, But Parish is Open to Transformation

Fr. Tony Steinacker is pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Huntington, IN. He enjoys being outdoors grilling or gardening. He deeply cares about the people of his parish, and he loves Christ and his Catholic faith. Fr. Tony said he was on the phone with his Leadership Consultant who explained that parishes were closing, and then a week later, SS Peter and Paul was closed.

In response to the fast-growing pandemic, Catholic Leadership Institute redirected efforts to help parishes anticipate what to do during this dark and challenging time. Leadership Consultants provided guidance for forming teams, researched best practices from across the country, and offered coaching in support of our pastors. Pandemic support services were fully funded by Catholic Leadership Institute donors and made available at no charge to parishes.

Fr. Tony is blessed with a strong staff and a supportive community. He was able to use the best practices provided by his CLI Leadership Consultant, along with directives from the diocese and guidance from the Indiana state health department, to inform his next steps and a longer-term plan.

Taking Action & Steps Forward

Armed with information and some practical recommendations, he took fast action. Fr. Tony and his staff created a video explaining every aspect of what parishioners need to know in order to come back to Mass under the rules of social distancing. The video covered the entire Sunday experience, from arriving in the parking lot and entering the church through Mass and departing. He and his staff sat in the pews to measure for social distancing and devised a plan to offset seating. He is live-streaming and recording Mass, offering virtual rosary, and virtual adoration; the weekly bulletin is viewable on the website and features “Theology Thoughts” from the Director of Religious Education; weekly bible study is posted on Facebook. Given that people are cautious about being in groups, Fr. Tony has scheduled additional time for people to receive communion after groups have departed from Mass. This gesture acknowledges the concerns of parishioners and responds to their need to be in communion with the parish and Christ.

But this is all just the groundwork. Fr. Tony committed early to Next Generation Parish because he saw it as important to where the parish needs to be. “It is a beautiful way to come together,” he says. “Now our focus is on spirituality. We need significant steps due to the pandemic and what we have learned already from the data gathered.”

"His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Mark 9:3

It’s the light of his faith – reminiscent of the white light of Christ’s transfiguration – and a proactive attitude to move forward that is so inspiring about Fr. Tony. “Our first meeting of the parish council is on Monday,” he says. “We want to talk about where to take the parish and how to move everyone forward in their faith. Sometimes people want to dwell on the discouraging news and the number of illnesses. I touch on the subject, but I don’t stay there in my homilies. My focus is to move ahead with the message of the scripture.”

He truly is a light for his parish and an example for all of us.

by Terry Poplava

August 06, 2020

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