Frank D. Almade

It was good to learn of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Administration (America, 9/26), and its members’ efforts to improve the stewardship of the church. As a city pastor, I see five difficulties in putting the excellent recommendations of the roundtable’s final report into practice. First, many priests today do not want to be leaders of a community. They have no desire to develop skills in the key responsibilities of leadership—articulating the mission, planning the goal-setting process, and working with staff and volunteers to accomplish prime strategies. Rather, they see themselves as helpers of individuals. Increasingly, younger priests (by years since ordination, not age) disdain the mundane administration of the five L’s (lights, leaks, locks, loot and lawns). They seek to be involved instead in “spiritual” activities, like the sacraments and counseling. Bishops today must make it clear to seminarians that becoming a pastor should be their highest ambition. Early in their seminary formation, seminarians must begin to develop the skills to be effective pastors, and must learn to accept constructive evaluation and ongoing formation as integral parts of their priesthood.

 

Second, pastors expend a ridiculous amount of their time on fundraising. Even while recruiting volunteers, planning events, coordinating scant parish staff and being present to parishioners, parish culture and “tradition” force priests to chase scarce dollars with bingo, raffles, Texas hold-’em poker and othe time-worn fundraising schemes. Few pastors have the courage to suggest to their finance councils that the energy used for fundraisers should be directed at evangelization, stewardship and adult formation. They risk ridicule and a very unbalanced budget.

Third, in my experience, parishes are run by a dedicated core of 200 to 300 people. The U.S. bishops’ statement in 1992 on Christian stewardship offers an eloquent vision of the uses of time, talent and treasure, but how many pastors or parishioners have read it? How many bishops (with the support of consultative councils and staff) have mandated stewardship as a diocesan fundamental? We pastors, supported by lay leadership on both parish and diocesan levels, need to say unequivocally and repeatedly that being a Catholic is not a spectator sport. If you want to “be church,” you have to participate by employing one or more of the gifts God has bestowed on you. We have to find new mechanisms of volunteer invitation and training to expand significantly the circles of participation.

A fourth issue is the wide and growing disparity between rich and poor parishes. While I am very happy pastoring in an urban setting, I do admit to jealous glances at the suburban parishes that have dozens of prosperous doctors, lawyers and business persons in their flock and think nothing of conducting seven-figure capital campaigns. City parishes have many expensive, aging buildings, dropping census rolls and growing calls to help the needy. It is hard for me to begrudge any family the desire to escape a difficult cityscape for better schools and the safer streets of the suburbs. But all parishes are judged by the same criterion: did you balance your budget? My own diocese has undertaken a multi-year effort to facilitate collaboration among parishes by grouping them into clusters. Yet even this admirable idea has in practice reinforced the disparities of wealth.

A final problem: employment by parishes is rarely judged by the church’s moral principle that calls for a living wage. Driven by flat or declining revenue, parishes reluctantly conduct a “race to the bottom,” seeking workers who will do necessary jobs for the lowest compensation. It is hard to be critical of states and the federal government for not raising the legal minimum wage for almost a decade when we use that same unrealistic family wage to employ staff and carry out our mission. In 1986 the U.S. bishops said that the church should apply to its own workings the moral principles that govern the just operation of any economic structure. They went further: “Indeed, the church should be exemplary.”

When I have shared these problems with parishioners or other priests, I have been accused of being pessimistic. But I am not. I share the positive, even joyful, attitude of the conference participants as expressed in the roundtable’s report. But the highest form of praise for the roundtable’s recommendations is for pastors and laypeople to put them into practice at the parish and diocesan levels.

Over and over I find myself holding the paschal mystery of Christ before my parishioners. We have to die to former ways of life—even bingo and festivals—in order to carry the good news of Christ more assertively to the world. Healthy, transparent administrative practices and the principles of stewardship are means to our goal, the building up of the reign of God. It is good to have the best management practices and governance skills as tools in that worthy pursuit.

The Rev. Frank D. Almade is pastor of the parishes of St. John Vianney and St. Mary of the Mount in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Comments

Peter J. Murray | 1/29/2006 - 10:04pm
Re: "Response to 'A Blueprint for Change'" by Rev. Frank Almade on page 26 of the January 30, 2006 issue. There is a solution to the first three of Father Almade's difficulties. He says that many priests today want to be involved in "spiritual" activities and be primarily concerned with counseling, the sacraments, and otherwise help individuals. Let the parish physical plant be administered by an elected Board of Trustees with real decision-making power. Let these people take on the responsibilities of the 'lights, leaks, locks, loot, and lawns', as you put it. Let them hire and supervise the parish staff, and let the parish priest be a spiritual leader instead of a manager. This approach is already successful in hospitals and other non-profit organizations. Certainly there will be collaboration in areas of parish mission and goals. If you think we lay people have a duty to participate in parish activities by "employing one or more of the gifts God has bestowed" on us, then give us some real responsibility so we are invested in the activities, and our work can not be undone by the whims of a pastor. Peter J. Murray Olympia, Washington

(Msgr.) Vincent Rush | 1/24/2006 - 1:01pm
To the Editor:

Frank Almade’s thoughtful “Response to ‘A Blueprint for Change’” (America, 1/30) invites comment on yet another difficulty parishes face in taking steps toward systemic renewal such as those the Leadership Roundtable recommends. I was first focused on this issue in my former parish by a pastoral council member, an executive, who on first seeing our parish organizational chart commented that “where we’d have a department, you have a person!” Simply put, due to financial constraints and demands for services most parishes as organizations are so lean in their staffing that no one has time to step back from activities. Resources of time and energy to plan strategically, to learn best practices, and to evaluate outcomes thoughtfully are almost impossible to obtain because they have to be pried away from ongoing programs. The admirable desire to provide parishioners with the most services for every contributed dollar unfortunately too often impels the provision of more, but not better, services. Until pastors, staff members, and parishioners agree that some resources have to be diverted from programs and services so that systematic planning, training, and evaluation become regular features of parish life the Roundtable’s recommendations are unlikely to be implemented. It will take a major shift in both leaders’ and parishioners’ priorities to break our present pattern and begin to invest in these invisible but crucial aspects of pastoral service.

(Msgr.) Vincent Rush, pastor Our Lady of Grace RCC West Babylon, NY

Ceil Ferrara Tuman | 1/30/2006 - 10:03am
While I agree with much of Fr. Almade's article, Response to "A Blueprint for Change", I take issue with his idea of an effective leader. Why should pastors burden themselves with the "mundane administration" of "lights, leaks, locks, loot and lawns"? Today priests are a rare commodity. To spend their increasingy precious time on concerns that a layperson can easily manage is only a waste of their gifts. Our own pastor had the vision and leadership skills to hire a facilities manager. This capable laywoman has the experience and background to oversee the day-to-day operations of our busy, thriving faith community. Not having to worry about leaks allows our pastor to visit the sick, dispense the sacraments, counsel those in need, celebrate mass and help us grow deeper in our faith--in short, the "spiritual activities" that drew him to the priesthood in the first place.

Sharon Fischer | 1/28/2006 - 12:07pm
I disagree with Rev. Almade. You don't need to be a priest to oversee the "five L's." At St. Aloysius we have a wonderful lay parish administrator who is trained in management and has developed the "skills of leadership." He looks after the budget and the staff as well as the "lights, leaks, locks, loot and lawns."

What we do need and have at our parish are sacramental ministers (priests) who are able to do what only the ordained can do -- preside, preach, hear confessions, anoint the sick, bury the dead, and officiate at marriages.

As priests become fewer and less interested in being practical leaders (overseeing all the mundane tasks of running a community) the need for parish administrators will grow. Priests come and go, but a parish administrator can stay and provide the continuity so important for a community to grow and develop, instead of starting over every time there's a new priest/pastor. Of course, working for a parish (instead of running one) requires a certain humility and a willingness to not be in control. Unfortunately, in my experience, many young priests (by years since ordination, not age) find it uncomfortable to be in the position of working for a parish. They want to be the boss, but as Rev. Almade has pointed out, they don't have the skills. The practicalities of leadership are not taught in seminary, and with all that must be learned to be a good presider, preacher and minister of care, to ask priests to add to their knowledge the necessary leadership skills would require the addition of the equivalent of an MBA (two more years) to their 3-4 year long theological studies for the MDiv. They don't even have experienced pastors to understudy, what with only one priest per parish in most places.

The role of the lay parish administrator is one answer to the priest shortage as well as to the desire for a more cultic, less managerial vision of priesthood on the part of those currently studying to be priests. The priests who work with parish administrators will have to relinquish the desire to be the boss, in turn they will be relieved of the managerial tasks of running a parish. The older, more experienced priests who have come to St. Al's have said they are glad to be free from all the administrative worries and meetings, and happy to be doing what they were trained to do -- be priests for the people of God.

Sherry Fischer Spokane, WA

Noreen Cleary, S.C. | 2/21/2007 - 2:58pm
While I agree with much of the assessment by the Rev. Frank D. Almade in “Response to ‘A Blueprint for Change’” (1/30), I believe that priests today do want to be leaders of the parish community. However, the “lights, leaks, locks, loot and lawns” can take an inordinate amount of time. This is especially true in a parish where there is only one priest, no business manager and no maintenance person (even part time). The demands of parish life, liturgical events and diocesan reports remain at the same intensity as they were some years ago when there were perhaps two or three men assigned to the parish. Pastors today, even though they have a support staff and a large number of volunteers, are still solely and ultimately responsible for the functioning of the parish. In this situation, they must set priorities; certainly, the liturgical life of the parish and the needs of parishioners must take first place. Otherwise, what’s it all about?

(Rev.) Joseph P. Breen & (Rev.) Philip Breen | 2/21/2007 - 2:13pm
Our church has a number of grave problems: the loss of Catholics who remarry outside the church and join Protestant churches, younger members who cannot agree or understand teachings on sexual morality, the problematic selection of new bishops who lack leadership skills and people skills. (See “Response to ‘A Blueprint for Change,’” 1/30).

But we believe the lack of priests is the number one challenge facing the church. People are leaving our churches because many pastors are old and no longer have energy or enthusiasm. Churches that in the past had two or three priests now have one priest and therefore fewer pastoral services. Do Rome or the bishops care about the thousands and perhaps millions of Catholic Latin Americans who have come to our country and who have joined Protestant churches because there are no priests?

Many young, healthy priests have left the priesthood after three to five years. There is very little support for a celibate priesthood in our country today. Many people feel there are too many homosexual seminarians as well as priests. Mothers, who are most influential in the lives of their sons, are not encouraging their sons to be priests. With the low birth rate, mothers want grandchildren.

Priests from abroad are undoubtedly good men and lovers of the Lord, but it seems to be rather a common problem that the great majority of the people cannot understand them and either quit going to church or go to another Christian church. While we speak as two, we know others who have also become very angry with Rome for ignoring this crisis and for forbidding the bishops to discuss this issue under threat of losing their episcopacy if they do so. Where is faith in all of this? Where is their real love for the truth? Where is there a genuine humility in the church to gather bright lights to come and light up Rome with the spirit of the Lord—a real desire to be prophets and have the courage and wisdom to make a difference?

We call upon you and your magazine to ponder and pray and perhaps become a true light of Christ and call for some response to this grave crisis of the shortage of priests. In the minds of many of us who are growing older (we are 71 and 67 years old), we see no hope for a celibate priesthood, nor do many see it as a healthy profession.

Ceil Ferrara Tuman | 1/30/2006 - 10:03am
While I agree with much of Fr. Almade's article, Response to "A Blueprint for Change", I take issue with his idea of an effective leader. Why should pastors burden themselves with the "mundane administration" of "lights, leaks, locks, loot and lawns"? Today priests are a rare commodity. To spend their increasingy precious time on concerns that a layperson can easily manage is only a waste of their gifts. Our own pastor had the vision and leadership skills to hire a facilities manager. This capable laywoman has the experience and background to oversee the day-to-day operations of our busy, thriving faith community. Not having to worry about leaks allows our pastor to visit the sick, dispense the sacraments, counsel those in need, celebrate mass and help us grow deeper in our faith--in short, the "spiritual activities" that drew him to the priesthood in the first place.

Sharon Fischer | 1/28/2006 - 12:07pm
I disagree with Rev. Almade. You don't need to be a priest to oversee the "five L's." At St. Aloysius we have a wonderful lay parish administrator who is trained in management and has developed the "skills of leadership." He looks after the budget and the staff as well as the "lights, leaks, locks, loot and lawns."

What we do need and have at our parish are sacramental ministers (priests) who are able to do what only the ordained can do -- preside, preach, hear confessions, anoint the sick, bury the dead, and officiate at marriages.

As priests become fewer and less interested in being practical leaders (overseeing all the mundane tasks of running a community) the need for parish administrators will grow. Priests come and go, but a parish administrator can stay and provide the continuity so important for a community to grow and develop, instead of starting over every time there's a new priest/pastor. Of course, working for a parish (instead of running one) requires a certain humility and a willingness to not be in control. Unfortunately, in my experience, many young priests (by years since ordination, not age) find it uncomfortable to be in the position of working for a parish. They want to be the boss, but as Rev. Almade has pointed out, they don't have the skills. The practicalities of leadership are not taught in seminary, and with all that must be learned to be a good presider, preacher and minister of care, to ask priests to add to their knowledge the necessary leadership skills would require the addition of the equivalent of an MBA (two more years) to their 3-4 year long theological studies for the MDiv. They don't even have experienced pastors to understudy, what with only one priest per parish in most places.

The role of the lay parish administrator is one answer to the priest shortage as well as to the desire for a more cultic, less managerial vision of priesthood on the part of those currently studying to be priests. The priests who work with parish administrators will have to relinquish the desire to be the boss, in turn they will be relieved of the managerial tasks of running a parish. The older, more experienced priests who have come to St. Al's have said they are glad to be free from all the administrative worries and meetings, and happy to be doing what they were trained to do -- be priests for the people of God.

Sherry Fischer Spokane, WA

Peter J. Murray | 1/29/2006 - 10:04pm
Re: "Response to 'A Blueprint for Change'" by Rev. Frank Almade on page 26 of the January 30, 2006 issue. There is a solution to the first three of Father Almade's difficulties. He says that many priests today want to be involved in "spiritual" activities and be primarily concerned with counseling, the sacraments, and otherwise help individuals. Let the parish physical plant be administered by an elected Board of Trustees with real decision-making power. Let these people take on the responsibilities of the 'lights, leaks, locks, loot, and lawns', as you put it. Let them hire and supervise the parish staff, and let the parish priest be a spiritual leader instead of a manager. This approach is already successful in hospitals and other non-profit organizations. Certainly there will be collaboration in areas of parish mission and goals. If you think we lay people have a duty to participate in parish activities by "employing one or more of the gifts God has bestowed" on us, then give us some real responsibility so we are invested in the activities, and our work can not be undone by the whims of a pastor. Peter J. Murray Olympia, Washington

(Msgr.) Vincent Rush | 1/24/2006 - 1:01pm
To the Editor:

Frank Almade’s thoughtful “Response to ‘A Blueprint for Change’” (America, 1/30) invites comment on yet another difficulty parishes face in taking steps toward systemic renewal such as those the Leadership Roundtable recommends. I was first focused on this issue in my former parish by a pastoral council member, an executive, who on first seeing our parish organizational chart commented that “where we’d have a department, you have a person!” Simply put, due to financial constraints and demands for services most parishes as organizations are so lean in their staffing that no one has time to step back from activities. Resources of time and energy to plan strategically, to learn best practices, and to evaluate outcomes thoughtfully are almost impossible to obtain because they have to be pried away from ongoing programs. The admirable desire to provide parishioners with the most services for every contributed dollar unfortunately too often impels the provision of more, but not better, services. Until pastors, staff members, and parishioners agree that some resources have to be diverted from programs and services so that systematic planning, training, and evaluation become regular features of parish life the Roundtable’s recommendations are unlikely to be implemented. It will take a major shift in both leaders’ and parishioners’ priorities to break our present pattern and begin to invest in these invisible but crucial aspects of pastoral service.

(Msgr.) Vincent Rush, pastor Our Lady of Grace RCC West Babylon, NY