Give the New Guy a Chance

As we were leaving Central Illinois for Mississippi, our diocese initiated a major priest-swap, switching parish priests from one church to another.

In some instances, it wasn’t a popular move.

The relationship between a Catholic priest and his parishioners is designed to be temporary. His assignment comes at the discretion of a bishop — unlike Protestant churches, whose congregations test pastoral candidates and vote them in or out at will.

Parishioners count on their priest to baptize their young, marry their children, and eulogize their deceased; to visit the sick in hospitals and nursing homes; to counsel the troubled and confused; to hear confessions.

Put a new face — a new personality — in that rectory, and you can expect an adjustment period.

On both sides.

We saw a similar priest-swap take place when we were on the Gulf Coast. There, the pastor firmly emphasized that he was moving to a different parish and urged the congregation not to compare the new priest to him, not to continue thinking of him as their shepherd. In short, to switch their allegiance to the new guy.

Wise words. Not all priests say them.

Our Illinois pastor was well-liked. When he left, people traveled miles to see him. They compared the new priest — unfavorably, of course — to him; refused to attend Mass and contribute to the support of the church; gossiped behind his back; even went so far as to write letters to the bishop, asking that he be removed.

Now they’re planning a meeting about the state of the parish, the school, the downturn in donations.

But I suspect the main topic will be the new priest and his “unsatisfactory personality.”

Don’t expect me to be there. I refuse to take part in a lynching.

A priest is God’s representative on earth. If he doesn’t do his job properly, he’ll have to answer for it. Rather than condemning him, parishioners might consider the following:

              “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.

“For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?”   Matt. 7: 1-3

33 thoughts on “Give the New Guy a Chance

  1. AMEN, Debbie!!!

    I realize that getting a new priest in a parish is an adjustment, however like you shared, it’s an adjustment on BOTH sides.

    I don’t know what it is about many people, but they don’t like change. I live in city that is notorious for not wanting anything to ever change and I think that’s so sad, because change is inevitable. And if you don’t leave yourself open to it, you don’t grow and learn.

    Great post, my friend! Have a super Monday!

    • Thank you, Ron. Most people, I suppose, fear change. It’s probably human nature or something like that. Still, if we refuse to open ourselves to new things, how poor our lives become. And how much we miss out on!
      Happy St. Paddy’s Day to you, dear!

  2. This happens in other religions as well…one of the main reasons I distanced myself from the church. I got tired of all the hypocrisy. Many forget pastors/priests are human and expect them to fill every bill, and there’s always a group of people on the lookout for something to complain about and try to have him/her removed.

    • I totally “get” that, Suzi. Instead of being a welcoming group, our churches too often close themselves off. People refuse to stretch out of their comfort zones, denying the possibility that just maybe, change might be a GOOD thing. We can’t expect all our priests/pastors to be little clones of each other!

  3. I can’t even imagine the scrutiny a clergyman or woman must endure while all the time trying to do their best and each having their own personality. Great reminder not to judge.

    • Thanks, Barb. I can’t decide which would be worse — going to a new church and knowing you’re facing a testing period where the people can vote you out if they don’t like you, or going to a new church at somebody’s else’s direction and facing anger and animosity, then knowing you have to put up with it until you’re directed to leave!!

    • Thanks, Kim. There are plenty of problems to go around, without having to focus on personalities. And who among us is so perfect that we can afford to pass judgment on another??

  4. Interesting. i thought Priests stayed with a Parish forever. Glad to learn they shake it up a little bit. Change is so hard for people. I imagine the attachment to a Priest is huge since they are part of so many significant events in ones life.Heck, I get bent out of shape when my barrister changes at Starbucks. Of-course it’s not the new Priests fault and he deserves a chance and I imagine the Bishops knows that it will all blow over–and the new will become the old as soon as the dust settles. The new guy is lucky to have your support and empathy from the start. It has to be easier standing on the pulpit knowing a least a few people are opening their hearts to you.

    • Thank you for putting this situation into perspective, Katybeth. You’re right — most parishioners squawk when faced with a change in pastors, but the bishops can’t concern themselves with that. I don’t imagine it’s an easy decision — who to put where — but I bet they have more in mind than simply change. They’re probably thinking of their priests’ growth and development as well!

      • I was wondering if it might be because they don’t want the parishioners to become attached to the priest and forget that he is delivering God’s message which will always stay with them. I know not of these things but the conversation has always fascinated me.

        • Well, that’s a good point, too — I hadn’t thought of that one! Some dioceses move priests around quite a bit, while others tend to leave them be a while. Personally, it makes sense to move them around; after all, they’re not supposed to become attached to the things of this world, nor is a parish supposed to become possessive of its priest.

  5. Perfect verse for this post. I didn’t know that priests could be moved around so much. True, it might be hard to adjust to someone new, especially if the previous priest was well-liked, but still, the guy should be given a fair chance. I’m glad you’re sitting out on the judging. I hope it all works out.

    • Me, too, Janna. Right now, it’s just so hard knowing that the poor new guy has feelings which are probably being hurt every single day. It’s hard enough doing what a priest does, without knowing that a very vocal minority (at least, I hope it’s a minority!) refuses to meet you half-way. Must be like going to a job you love but co-workers you know don’t like you!

  6. Having grown up Catholic, I knew that priests were not permanent fixtures in any given church. I’ve also experienced being part of a church community that was fortunate to have a beloved priest for a period of time. When he left, it felt like we were in mourning. I felt sorry for the new guy. He wasn’t nearly as charismatic or endearing. And though he had many great qualities and was a very educated man, he just didn’t have the flare and color of the previous priest.

    Your post is a good reminder to give everyone a chance and to refrain from comparing one to another.

    • Terri, you’ve described our situation to a tee. The new priest, while very prayerful and interesting, just doesn’t have the people skills his predecessor exhibited; consequently, he’s being shunned. And I just think that’s a very un-Christian thing to do to anybody, especially a priest. Who knows? Perhaps he didn’t want to leave his former parish either!

  7. Even within Protestant denominations, there are variations in the way the situation is dealt with. As far as I know, the Methodists still move their pastors along every five years. In certain Lutheran groups (and yes, there are several), congregations call their own pastors in consultation with the Bishop, but the practice is that, once a long-established pastor retires or moves on, the person who comes in is understood to be an interim pastor. The reason is precisely what you’ve described here. The better the relationship between congregation and pastor, the more impossible it is for whoever shows up next. Jesus himself would have some trouble.

    There are a lot of complex dynamics, that’s for sure. And you’re right – the new guy (or gal, in some instances) deserves a chance. After all, isn’t there something written somewhere about there being a variety of gifts?

    • Linda, I got a laugh out of your comment, ‘Jesus himself would have some trouble.’ How sad, but how true! Maybe it’s just human nature to distrust new folks, but somehow I think it’s easier if you trust the one making the decision for the change. And that’s probably a good reason why people here aren’t exactly amenable — the Bishop, too, is fairly new, and he isn’t exactly a ‘proven entity’ yet.

      And yes, I believe it was St. Paul who laid out the variety of gifts in the body of Christ and instructed that all have their special place. Thanks for pointing that out!

  8. Debbie, As a human being myself, I know two things to be true: People can become emotionally attached to other people, and People hate change. And there’s the rub. They got emotionally attached to the first priest and they didn’t like the change that the swap brought. Well, they’re only human. Hopefully, they’ll soon get used to the new priest. Though by the time that happens, he’ll be swapped out. Sigh.

    • Sadly, I fear the new guy won’t be around long enough for them to get used to him, Monica. I don’t know enough about this sort of thing, but I wonder if he gets a voice in all of it? I mean, he probably senses (or downright knows) that folks haven’t warmed up to him (and are acting like they might never), so he can’t be comfortable in such a situation. I’d be begging the bishop for a transfer, ha!

  9. Debbie, I’m with you. Change is always hard to take especially if the priest leaving is beloved but we need to be compassionate toward our priests. The have tough job in this time of turmoil. We had a similar situation when our parish as assigned a new priest and many parishioners resisted. It always amazes me the length some people go to make it hard for others—gossiping and backstabbing. In the end, he won everyone over and those nit-noises were drowned out. Yes, give him a chance. We need to take good care of the priests we do have!

    • You’ve made a good point, Kathy. We don’t have that many priests as it is, and we can ill afford to run off the ones we have! I don’t know why people assume a parish priest is “theirs” when in actuality, he’s God’s. I guess if we live long enough, we’ll all see this sort of situation, but it must break this new priest’s heart not to be given half a chance.

  10. Wow Deb…you preach girl! But seriously…Are we worshiping man or God? People KNOW that the priest are only there temporarily and their focus should be on coming to church to worship and serve God. To make the church suffer because of the loss of support is not fair to the faithful…. or ones brothers and sisters in Christ.

    I personally don’t understand the switch of priest…but these are the rules of the Catholic Church!

    I also think this shows who is following the principals of the bible and who is not. The bible says…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9

    • I knew you’d understand, Tanya. One doesn’t have to be Catholic to “get it” that the preacher is human; the God we worship is divine, and it’s Him that we belong to. I think the Church moves priests around just for this very purpose, to show the people that their allegiance should be toward God, not man. Parishes “suffering” through a priest they dislike are only too happy when a change is made, ha!

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