By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published April 10, 2008
Msgr. Luis Zarama and I were “playing in the dirt” last weekend as we both had the honor to participate in two separate parish groundbreaking ceremonies. He returned to the church community of St. Helena’s in Clayton, where he had served as pastor, to help them kick off the building project of a new church, and I did the same for the parish community of St. Joseph’s in Athens. Both events are a further indication of the continued growth of our Archdiocese.
Starting a building project is a happy and yet daunting undertaking for a parish. It is a positive indication of the generosity and determination of many people. It represents the sure sign of growth in this local church.
In addition to these projects, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish recently announced the successful results of a capital campaign that will allow them to purchase a piece of property that adjoins their present location and will permit them to develop this parcel of land sometime in the future. St. Francis of Assisi in Cartersville is looking into an expansion of their facility. We are looking into the establishment of new mission communities south of Gainesville and north of Flowery Branch as well as another on the border of Paulding and Cobb counties.
These projects confirm the obvious growth and expansion of the church throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta. They are indications that we are an increasing community of Faith. They are blessings from God upon the hard work of the people of our parishes and our clergy and lay parish staffs.
Our Archdiocesan Planning Committee, which is studying the trends and demographic development of our region, has already confirmed that such growth will continue throughout the next decade. Even as we look at how we should plan for and anticipate our growth, we are working hard to be good stewards of our resources and to invite our people to work for this increase.
Andrew Nelson, one of the staff from The Georgia Bulletin, cornered me as I was concluding the groundbreaking at St. Joseph’s new site to ask if I had any observations on the ceremony. I gave him a few comments and then thought about his question for the next couple of hours.
When I served as auxiliary bishop in Chicago, I was involved in the closure or merger of 33 parishes in my region (vicariate) alone in the Chicago Archdiocese during the 10 years of my tenure. Those were always sensitive situations as parishes are very dear to the people who have called these communities their church homes. Often those parishes had served a region for a century or more, and they held the heritage of culture and faith for many generations of people.
It is never easy to make a decision about a community—even when the loss or shifting of population, the change in demographics, and the limitation of resources make the change both necessary and right. Parishes are founded to provide for the pastoral care of people. They ought never to become simply a museum with artifacts of memories and yet no people. Occasionally parishes complete their mission and need to close or to merge in order to serve a changing community or to continue to function in collaboration with neighboring parishes. It is a delicate but necessary pastoral decision.
As I thought about Andrew’s question, I gave thanks for being a part of so many new ventures of growth and development in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. We began as a diocese in 1956 with only 18 parishes and missions—we now have 95, and we will need many more in the next decade.
Thanks be to God, we have generous people, zealous ministers and a spirit of adventure to make that expansion possible. It is so much more gratifying and exciting than closing or merging communities that have proud and wonderful histories but need to change in response to present-day situations.