Recently, I have read and heard a lot of negative comments about Bishop Edward Kmiec and the Journey in Faith and Grace. This negativity demands a response.
My classmates and I were ordained transitional deacons in 1982. During that summer, we were to preach on the vocations shortage in the Church. At that time we could already see that the number of ordinations was declining, and if we were unable to increase vocations, we would have a significant decrease in the number of priests in the future.
We are now in that moment. Dioceses all over the United States, especially in the Northeast, are facing the same conditions. We have fewer priests, and the priests we have are significantly older than 25 years ago. The median age of priests in our diocese is 65. We face a critical moment for the future of ministry in our diocese.
Many of the voices we have heard talk about beautiful church buildings and the importance of maintaining them because they are so wonderful. While our buildings are important, we need to have the same energy, care and concern about meeting our needs for continuing the work of Jesus. Too often what is being lost is the preaching of the Gospel.
As a pastor, I do not want to be a museum curator who keeps a building open for an occasional wedding or funeral. I want to be a pastor who truly ministers to a faith-filled and vibrant community. I do not want to do this stretched between multiple sites in which no one's needs are truly being met.
Let's be honest, this is a very painful process. It is painful for our people, and it is painful for our priests. We are asking people to uproot themselves from a church they have called a spiritual home. We are asking priests to accept assignment to a new parish, and since the priest lives in the parish rectory, we are asking him to leave his parish as well as his home.
These are tough requests. But we have to keep in mind that we've seen this shortage of priests coming for decades and we have to be honest about this as well -- our response has been minimal.
I have asked many young men to consider priesthood. So far I believe I have recruited one Baptist minister.
I pray for Bishop Kmiec. I have watched him watching priests as we receive Communion together, and I wonder what it might feel like to see an aging group of us, and realize this is what we have for the future of our diocese.
I have watched him at various meetings having to make some pretty difficult choices. I know that he listens carefully to the commission, to the Council of Priests and to the Vicariate Councils before he makes his final decisions. I have never known him to come into a meeting with a predetermined plan. Nor is there a "master plan" that has been predetermined.
Our bishop relies on all of us to guide him to do the right thing for our future. I pray for his physical health, his emotional health and his spiritual health, that he may continue to guide us and make these tough choices.
Together we are on a Journey in Faith and Grace. We need to keep in mind that we are called to have faith in God and faith in the leaders he has given us. We need to be assured that our Journey in Faith and Grace will lead us to a better future. While we do not know precisely what that future holds, we must in faith know that God himself holds our future.
The Rev. Robert M. Mock is pastor of St. John the Evangelist and St. Teresa of Avila Churches iN Buffalo.