St. Joseph Ellinwood, KS and Immaculate Conceptoin Claflin, KS

What Worries Me...

- Father Terrance Klein 

I’ll begin with an admission.  I’m a worrier.  At any given moment, I’m fretting about something.  Sometimes I say that the only thing that takes my mind off of a worry is a new worry.  Of course, I’m not alone in that.

I worry about the long-term future of our parishes.  And that’s a little odd, because right now they are both rather vibrant communities, full of fine folk, with a good amount going on.  In one area, St. Joseph’s might be stronger; in another, it’s Immaculate Conception.  So, why am I worried?

Everyone knows that our rural Kansas counties continue to decline in population.  Church attendance is down among millennials, and it’s the combination of those two factors, which gives me pause.  If we were a suburban Kansas City parish, the number of practicing Catholics might decline but there would be enough people in the county to maintain parish numbers.  That isn’t the case here.

Strange to say, but I’m not personally worried.  I only have nine and a half years left, not that I’m counting!  I’m quite sure that our parishes will be here in nine and a half years.  But I continue to ask myself, am I doing enough to lay a solid foundation for the pastor who will follow me?  Am I doing all that I can to make our parishes centers of evangelization that reach out to new people?  If not, in nine and a half years, I will have buried many of you and leave my successor two parishes much reduced in size and vibrancy.  Of course, there’s always the chance that you will bury me, but that doesn’t change things for the guy who follows me.

Sometimes, if one looks at initiatives I’ve begun, it might seem that I cater to the young.   I’ll plead guilty to the appearance of that, but, remember—with the exception of Saint Joseph School, which does demand a lot of time of any pastor—most of my time on any given day is spent with the older members of our parishes:  at daily Mass, in their homes, in confession, and in hospitals.  Perhaps that’s how it should be.  After all, these folk and I are coming ever closer to the time God calls us to judgement.

Both of our parishes need volunteers.  We don’t have enough liturgical ministers.  We don’t have enough people who want to serve on our councils and organizations.  Years ago, when I was a very young priest, Bishop Eugene Gerber told me, “If you really need something done, ask someone who is busy.  I know they are busy, but this is because they are the sort of people who get things done.” 

I could begin to list a number of individuals in both parishes who seem to be everywhere, doing everything for us.  In fact, I had intended to give some examples from both parishes, but I would undoubtedly leave off just before mentioning someone who really should be acknowledged. 

It’s been noted before, but it’s nonetheless true that a small percentage of households carry our parishes financially.  What will happen when these folks go home to God?  It would be wonderful if everyone who is a member of our parishes could point to one area, which they’ve claimed as their own way of contributing to the life of the parish.  One thing that we could use right now are people willing to write for our new online newsletter.  Our continuing mission: to draw us together.

Of course I’m not naïve.  God and his people accomplish a lot of good beyond the parish.  You may be very busy right now with your health or that of a loved one.  This may not be a good time for you to volunteer.  You’re busy with what God has given you.  Fair enough!  But then again, sometimes keeping busy is just the tonic the doctor ordered.  And I think most parishioners would describe the time, which they give to parish as personally enriching.

Think about it.  In some of my Christmas thank you notes this year, I wrote, “I can’t imagine what our parish would be like without you.”  That’s not insincere praise.  That’s absolutely true.  And that’s what worries me!