I pray that the New Year has brought blessings to you and your loved ones. By the time this letter appears in the bulletin, I will be on vacation in India with my family. I hope that this letter finds you well.
It has been six months since Fr. Dave Brinkmoeller retired and I assumed the role of pastor. Much has transpired during this time. Please consider this letter to be a “State of the Parish” address to all of you.
1. Coordinator for Adult Evangelization: Mike Ingram, who recently introduced himself as the Coordinator of Adult Evangelization, informed me recently that professional extenuating circumstances have led him away from St. Helen. Obviously, I am very saddened by this development since the search committee and I had put much time and effort into interviews and in ultimately selecting Mike. I am also sad because Mike is a really good man, and I believe that had he continued in this position, we would have gained much from his presence and talents. On behalf of the parish I wish him the very best. At this point, I have decided to entrust some the responsibilities of this position to very generous volunteers within the parish. For example, Shawn Kalis will spearhead the RCIA program, and Jon and Deb Danner will lead baptism preparation classes for families who approach the parish seeking this sacrament for their children. I am grateful to them and others who have generously offered their time and gifts for the service of the community. At this time, I have decided to wait until spring to take the next steps. Perhaps there is room for some creativity and the possibility of reconfiguring staff positions at the parish. Let us pray that God’s wisdom will lead us in this process.
2. Facilities and Grounds Survey: Close to the time of Fr. Dave’s retirement, there was much research done into the facilities and building needs of the parish. Two projects gained much attention: the need for a cafeteria at the school and the need for renovating the parish offices. A feasibility study done in June 2016 revealed that the cost of both these projects would wipe out our entire financial reserves. As a result, I, along with Don Reimer, our Business Manager, the parish staff, the Building and Grounds Committee, and the Finance Commission decided to conduct a survey of ministry leaders to assess the overall facilities needs of the parish. Building & Grounds, Finance, PPC, and staff will be working on a comprehensive facilities plan to be presented by the end of fiscal year. The question we are trying to address is this: How can we continue to develop our facilities so that we can provide ministries with optimum effectiveness yet maintain a reasonable and healthy financial reserve? The survey has been helpful in making a few important decisions. For one, items have come to the top of the priority list for facilities. These include air-conditioning the school classrooms, making the parish office building handicap accessible, furnishing the parish offices for collaborative work and maximum efficiency, equipping the church with a state-of-the-art sound system, and constructing a gathering-space/cafeteria for the parish/school. Except for the last item, most of these projects will be completed in the 2017-18 calendar year.
3. Formation of Risk Management Committee. One of my main goals has been to develop policies for risk management. We live in a time where litigation is the name of the game. Religious organizations like St. Helen are not immune from such risks. There are three areas in which a parish is most vulnerable: the use of our grounds and facilities, the sale and use of alcohol at parish events (fish fry, festival, parish picnic, festival volunteer party) and games that include gambling. While such events continue to be integral to the life of the parish, thus far there has been no cohesive and consistent policy that addresses the liability we risk in holding such events. State laws regarding gambling, and especially the use of alcohol have radically changed. Moreover, the Archdiocese suggests best practices that may be contrary to the many of the practices that we have carried forward from the time these events were originally founded. I believe that our church has an obligation to protect our patrons, our volunteers, and our parish from harm.
Thus, in October last year we invited the Office of Risk Management of the Archdiocese Cincinnati to update our fish fry and festival committees and booth chairs about State laws and best practices regarding gambling, alcohol, and facilities use. It was suggested that the parish establish a committee to develop risk management policies that are in line with the latest laws and best practices. We have formed a Risk Management Committee to develop sound policies for our parish. I am very grateful to Jeremy McWilliams for agreeing to be the chairperson of this committee. This committee is meeting and working hard toward developing risk management policies. These policies will function as the guideline for future events. I believe that this will enhance the way in which we conduct parish events.
4. Introducing E-Giving. Over the last few years, an ad hoc committee of parishioners led by Mary Heider has done extensive research about electronic giving. The data highlights the multiple advantages of electronic giving including convenience and consistent giving, the latter of which will assist the parish in annual financial planning. Moreover, more and more people, especially the millennial and younger generations, rarely use checks. They have consistently requested e-giving options in the parish. In response, our parish has employed the services of Faith Direct to introduce and set up e-giving in our parish. E-giving will be launched in our parish on January 21-22. Please know that those who would like to use the regular envelopes can continue to do so. E-giving is only for those who voluntarily sign up for it. May I please request you to actively participate in this program and make it a success.
5. Success for SH School. Our school continues to do very well under the leadership of our principal, Chrissy Buschur. Not only is the enrollment growing, but the school has become an important evangelizing ministry. This Easter, 9 students will be baptized (with a total of 10 coming into the church) as they embrace Catholicism. My heartfelt congratulations to every one of these students. I deeply appreciate our principal, teachers, and school volunteers for their admirable commitment and diligence.
6. Impact of Priests Shortage. The shortage of priests is a tragic but growing crisis within the church. We all hoped that the impact of this crisis would not be imminent or that it would not affect our parish. However, it is affecting us in the here and now. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Futures Plan called for a creation of regions that would comprise two or more parishes under one pastor. This plan was partly implemented when Fr. Dave became the Pastor of Region 6. This region includes St. Helen and Immaculate Conception parishes. I have reason to believe that the days of having two full-time priests between our two parishes are behind us. Increasingly, newly ordained priests are being appointed full-time pastors of pastoral regions more quickly than in the past. This makes it impossible to have long term associate pastors as we have had in the past. While the full implication of this development is not fully clear to us at St. Helen, I am requesting that we be aware that the shortage of priests and its impact will be an issue we must be prepared to embrace. I am very grateful to the retired and other generous priests who have offered their services to us in the last few months.
We are a people of faith. Often, when we are compelled to embrace change, fear can dominate our conversations and actions. I believe that the Church founded by Jesus Christ is in His hands. Let us give and do our best for the Church because when we do so, we serve God and our brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, I remain committed to ensuring that St. Helen Parish and School remain vibrant communities of faith today and for generations to come.