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Parish Clustering - A Reflection on the Structure of the Church

News of the Diocese

February 1, 2009

With all the discussion of ?clustering? going on in our own diocese, it seems as though it would be timely to reflect on the structure of the Church that reflects our tradition, namely those groupings or divisions we know as dioceses and parishes.  Some of our earliest Christian history found in the writings of the New Testament and shortly thereafter help us to know that the Apostle St. James was regarded as the first Bishop of Jerusalem, St. Peter the first Bishop of Rome, St. Mark the first Bishop of Alexandria (Egypt), etc.  The places where bishops were found came to be known as dioceses, following some of the administrative divisions that were found in the Roman Empire.  Eventually dioceses were further subdivided into groups called parishes, again a name coming from the civil structure of the time.

Down through the centuries, parishes took on their own ?personalities,? each one being unique and distinct.  Especially since so many sacred events and special moments happened in parish churches like weddings, funerals, baptisms and other momentous events in the lives of individuals and families, people would become very attached and loyal to their parishes.  While changes happened, they seemed to happen gradually.  For example, an early stronghold of the Church was Northern Africa.  St. Cyprian was bishop in Carthage and St. Augustine in Hippo.  Both of those cities exist today only as archeological sites.  Not only did parishes change and even disappear, but entire dioceses ceased to exist while at the same time new ones were developing in other areas.  Things that seemed to be so permanent were, in fact, not so.

The clustering process that we are now going through has become necessary because of gradual but massive changes that have taken place in the past fifty years or so, changes that no one could have ever foreseen fifty years ago.  Living through these kinds of changes is not an easy thing.  When we see something we think of as so permanent and solid as a parish that we love, it is hard to think of that parish being merged or closed.  But then the reality begins to set in that a parish is really the people and not the buildings those people use. Since the buildings usually outlast the people that built them, they often become identified with the reality of the parish, but that has never really been true. They remind us that one of our greatest Catholic traditions is that we are the People of God, a people that make good use of the material world that God has entrusted to us, but a people always aware that this earthly home of ours is a temporary stop on the way to eternity.

The above column was written by the Rev. Ralph Wiatrowski, Pastor, St. Barnabas Church, Northfield.  It first appeared in the January/February, 2009 issue of the "TV Mass Bulletin", an every other month newsletter mailed to the homebound Catholic community in the Diocese of Cleveland.

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