First Appointment as a Parish Priest
PREPARATION FOR FIRST APPOINTMENT AS PARISH PRIEST
CONCLUSIONS OF A CONSULTATION ON FIRST APPOINTMENT
It is necessary that in the light of the faith all rediscover the true meaning of the parish, that is, the place where the very "mystery" of the Church is present and at work, even if at times it is lacking persons and means, even if at other times it might be scattered over vast territories or almost not to be found in crowded and chaotic modern sections of cities. - Christifideles Laici (1988) 26
Both before and after a first appointment as Parish Priests the Consultation sees a need for priests to be given help, organised by the diocese or a number of dioceses, that responds in an integral way to their specific needs.
 HUMAN AND SPIRITUAL NEEDS
1. Spirituality A Parish Priest needs a spirituality that is integrated with his understanding of priesthood and that enlightens and energises his leadership, especially where he cares for a number of parishes (Canon 517). He needs a spirituality that moves him to mission before maintenance. Such a spirituality needs to grow from the humanity he shares with all the men and the women he serves, from the mission of Christ which Vatican II emphasised all the baptised share, and from the dynamism in the sacrament of holy orders (PDV 70).
2. Energy and Life This comes from relationships and from prayer. For a new Parish Priest, especially in rural dioceses, to be frequently moved over large distances can mean friendships never develop beyond initial contacts. Availability of spiritual guidance to develop a genuine prayer life needs to be considered, and the importance of Support Groups emphasised. Aloneness plays a big part in a priest's life, but loneliness dehumanises and de-energises.
3. Suitability Not every priest may be temperamentally suited to become a Parish Priest. Non-ordained persons may have the qualities suited to lead a parish.
4. Gradual Preparation Becoming a PP is not a "zap" one suddenly gets. Preparation starts at ordination. He needs to be prepared psychologically and spiritually to be on his own, perhaps for the first time in his life.
5. Role Models There is a paucity in the variety of role models available to new Parish Priests.
6. Learning the Trade With the shortage of priests, there is little time for a priest to learn "the trade" before becoming a PP. During his first year especially, a new PP needs opportunities to share with experienced Parish Priests and other "first timers."
7. Criteria There is need of open and clear criteria in a diocese for the process of appointment: eg. Does a new priest wait to be approached or does he apply?
8. Busyness A new Parish Priest needs to learn how to care for his own welfare, not becoming overburdened and "letting the lights go out". Sharing in Support Groups helps.
9. Getting the Job Done Parish Priests need to learn how to integrate administrative work with their personal lives and other priestly functions. Priests should get the job done and still keep their feelings and emotions as human beings. The person must not become the role.
10. Time to Dream Priests need time to read, reflect and dream: eg. at least one day off each week and at least two nights off a week with no meetings.
 INTELLECTUAL AND PASTORAL NEEDS
11. Importance of Continuity A new PP needs a sense of history of the parish, and the need to become aware of the different persons and groups within the parish who will gradually come forward to offer their gifts. In the changeover of a PP he needs to understand the importance of a continuity of vision shared by priest and people. He must not rush to make decisions that weaken trust in him, avoiding changes if possible in the first six months.
12. Style of Leadership The personality of a priest needs to be taken into account before his appointment as a PP: how does he operate as a leader? Parish Priests today need to develop skills in learning, communication and collaboration. Some parishes have special situations, and priests with special qualities and skills need to be appointed there. For this reason, the only priest available to fill a vacancy may be inappropriate.
13. Working Collaboratively A Parish Priest needs to face the challenge of exercising authority collaboratively. Collaboration begins with a state of mind that flows into a way of acting. It involves sharing plans and decision-making, remembering people have limits to their involvement. He should not be quick to use his power of veto. Modelling of collaborative ministry by bishops greatly encourages priests to work collaboratively.
14. Authority A Parish Priest is never merely a facilitator of communal discernment or an animator of corporate life, for he has authority in the church, which is not to be identified with power or control as such. He must be ready to make decisions, even unpopular ones.
15. Discernment Skills Parish Priests need discernment skills to be able to choose the right persons for parish jobs.
16. Familiarity with Parish Organisations New Parish Priests need familiarity with the role and functioning of parish organisations: eg. Parish Pastoral Councils, Finance Committees (and the difference between the two), and School Boards. He needs knowledge of parish-based sacramental programs; the legal conditions surrounding the employment of secretaries and housekeepers; and the relationship of the parish to the Chancery.
17. Liturgical Leadership The life of a parish flows from a good Sunday Eucharist. Good liturgical leadership needs sound theology and a spiritual approach.
18. Administrative Skills Some priests consider any form of administration a waste of time but Parish Priests through necessity will have to give time to administrative and maintenance work. Some kind of Diocesan Charter would help with the book-work and administrative things: keeping registers and financial books, knowing what comes from which account, maintenance of buildings, correspondence, working with government agencies, etc.
19. Communication Technology A Parish Priest today needs to be able to handle modern communication technology: faxes, mobile phones, computers, email, websites.
20. Relation with Schools He needs to know his role in the school and have the skills to work with the staff and in some places with the teacher unions.
21. Ministry of Deacons Parish Priests today need to show an interest in the potential of permanent deacons for ministry, and in learning how to work with them.
22. Mentoring New Parish Priests can be greatly helped to grow in parish leadership, by having a mentor to provide "supervision" or "guided assessment" which is not the same as "spiritual guidance" or "pastoral guidance".
The Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate congregations of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called churches in the New Testament. For in their own locality these are the new people called by God, in the Holy Spirit and in much fulness (see I Thess 1:5). In them the faithful are gathered together by the preaching of the gospel of Christ, and the mystery of the Lord's supper is celebrated, "that by the flesh and blood of the Lord's body the whole community may be joined together." - Lumen Gentium (1964) 26.
Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal:to carry forward the work of Christ himself under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.
To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinising the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which people ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. - Gaudium et Spes (1965) 3-4.
The Consultants were chosen from a variety of places either because of their recognised experience or because they were likely to be or had recently been appointed Parish Priests for the first time. The consultants met for a day in Canberra twice, in July and in September 1997. After each meeting the material discussed was processed, returned to each for comment, and then processed again for further comment. It was finally prepared by the Commission for presentation to Bishops, Diocesan Directors, Provincials of Clerical Religious Orders, and Seminary Formation Staff for use in any way that helps.
- Fr Bill Bainbridge, Melbourne (Ferntree Gully)
- Fr Jack Moroney, Wilcania-Forbes (Cobar)
- Fr Lex Johnson, Sydney (Forest Lodge-Glebe)
- Fr Mark McGuigan, Bathurst (Coonabarabran)
- Fr John Reilly, sj (Executive Officer)
- Fr Joe Rheinberger, Canberra-Goulburn (Farrer)
- Fr Noel Molloy, Sydney (St Paul's Seminary)
- Fr Peter Tien, Wollongong (Vincentia)
17 March 1999.