By Christina Leslie, Correspondent
“We are at a time in the Church life where the pace of change is overwhelming and can feel dizzying,” workshop presenter Dr. Melissa M. Kelley told an audience of nearly 200 pastoral ministers, clergy and parish staff Feb. 15 in St. David the King, Princeton Junction. “The more sensitive to loss we can be, the more responsive we can be.”
The all-day workshop, titled “Loss, Change and Resilience in Communities of Faith,” was offered as a follow-up to the reorganization taking place in the Diocese as part of the Faith in our Future initiative. Terry Ginther, diocesan executive director of Pastoral Life and Mission, noted that changes in leadership and staff, challenging financial circumstances and shifting demographics have prompted the need for parish linkages, mergers and, in a few cases, the suspension of operation at certain church sites.
“We are facing a lot of change in the Church and our parishes,” said Ginther. “People could use a little professional support, and this speaker can share ways parishes can cope with change.”
Dr. Kelley reviewed six major types of loss (material, relationship, role, systemic, functional and intrapsychic) and noted, “It helps to have a language for what the people are going through.”
She cautioned the ministers, “[You] are not always good at seeing your own losses since you are so dedicated to helping others. We need to be present to our own loss.”
Resilience is crucial, Dr. Kelley said, and can help a community thrive. “It is not a personality type. It is skill-based and can be learned or cultivated,” she continued, and likened a resilient person to a rubber ball which, though compressed, can bounce back afterwards.
“Self-care is key,” Dr. Kelley said. “In my experience, some people do ministry at the expense of themselves. Be committed to self-care. You never know what is coming to you. When people listen over and over to other people’s trauma, the listeners can start to change their own ways of thinking.”
She likened resilience to inner strength training and listed a number of factors which contribute to its development: mindfulness, inner peace, community support, belief you may overcome adversity, job satisfaction and a strong spiritual life. Resilience builders to become more effective ministers include developing a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake; learning new things as often as possible, and not dwelling on the past. [For additional resilience builders, see TrentonMonitor.com.]
“Don’t adapt a stoic mentality, and don’t become overly focused on your weaknesses,” she cautioned. “Be responsive to one another, and allow the community to speak to our resiliency.”
Dr. Kelley encouraged participants to pray over topics and share examples of loss and resilience with fellow ministers.
Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, noted he has counselled those who grieve the loss of a pet. As much as one might trivialize such a loss, he said, “it comes up in conversations with parishioners. The reality is, when you lose something, it means your life is changed.”
Addressing the recent changes prompted by the diocesan-wide initiative, Pat Quigley of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, stated, “The major thing I found so important about Faith in our Future is that the Bishop recognizes we are all baptized in faith and said he wanted to involve the people. This will help all the parishes move forward.”
Donna Millar, coordinator of religious education in St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, admitted the topic was of prime importance to her. She recently replaced her long-time predecessor, knows that their leadership skills differed greatly, and will be instituting changes to the parish’s catechetical program.
“I need to recognize when I deal with people, they are suffering a loss,” Millar said. “There is a core group of catechists from the parish that have been so helpful since I’m not from the community. They have refreshed me and keep me going.”