By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published April 2, 2009
Last Sunday I presided at the official welcome and installation of Father Charles Byrd as the new pastor of Our Lady of the Mountains in Jasper. Even though it was a Lenten Sunday, the mood in church was markedly jubilant. In the relatively few months that Father Byrd has been there, he has already established a warm and very positive feeling among the parishioners. Several of them told me how grateful they were that I had assigned him to his first pastorate in their community. While they loved and still miss the former pastor, they were very pleased with “the new man!”
We are very fortunate to have many fine young priests who have begun as very successful neophyte pastors. We are also fortunate to have a great many veteran pastors who have only improved their expertise and their pastoral skills over the years. Many of these seasoned pastors were the mentors of their younger brothers, so they too should take much delight in witnessing what a good job they have done in helping to prepare these younger priests for their first pastorates.
Parishioners are eager to welcome the priests who are assigned to serve them. In a special way, our communities know that a first-time pastor needs their patience and strong support as he comes to terms with the new responsibilities that are his. One of our first-time pastors told me the other day: “We young pastors were together recently, and we acknowledged that it was an eye-opener to get together and not to talk about the pastor—since we are the ones in charge now!”
When I went to visit another one of these freshmen pastors a couple of weeks ago, he was already sounding like a longtime veteran of the community with his knowledge of the employment struggles that have hit his region of the Archdiocese. These new pastors are not afraid to be directly engaged not only in helping their people face the challenges of the economy but also the local political obstacles that may come their way. They even stand beside their parishioners in the tragedies that strike a community—whether through nature or criminal liability.
A number of these new pastors have undertaken extensive building projects and have revealed a quite deft hand at negotiating contracts, coping with the intricacies of local and chancery office requirements to bring a project to completion. They are demonstrating the skills needed to lead successful expansion projects and already seem like pros in addressing the needs that face their fast-growing parishes.
Most of them electrify and energize their communities with their youthful enthusiasm and joy. They face the challenges of serving multilingual and multicultural communities with great aplomb. Needless to say, I am quite proud of these young pastors whose initial successes bode quite well for the future of our Archdiocese as they will continue to gain the skills necessary to lead other larger parishes in the future—although most of their parishioners will not want to lose any of them very soon.
I am sure that they have also made their mistakes, and there may be a letter or telephone call complaining about something they might have done or should have done or may have dared to do differently in the life of the parish, but the overwhelming sentiment that I have encountered when recently visiting one of these communities in the care of a freshman pastor is that they are doing just fine.
I praise God for giving this local Church so many skillful young priests who apparently have taken to their first pastorates like “ducks to water.” May the Lord continue to strengthen them and all the parishioners that they serve with joy, zeal and love for the Lord Jesus.