Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Considering parish communities, large and small

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published June 25, 2015  | En Español

A very attractive new set of doors is now installed at Queen of Angels Church in Thomson. I visited that community last week to bless this new addition and to spend a part of my Sunday with one of our many parishes that celebrate their Catholic faith well outside of the Atlanta metro area.

Actually, Queen of Angels is much more in the orbit of the city of Augusta than Atlanta. Several of the people at the Sunday Mass told me that they live in Augusta but come to this charming parish more out of affection than travel convenience.

There is an attraction and an intimacy to be found in such rural small town parish communities. They are more like large families than simply just neighbors.

Parish communities do vary because of size and location. Our large urban parishes have the good fortune of being comprised of thousands of people whose diversity and resources allow them to provide many advantages that come with great numbers. They can offer multiple worship opportunities, catechetical options, formation possibilities and recreation choices. Their size gives them advantages that smaller parishes simply do not have.

But the size of the large parishes can also keep parishioners as strangers in a vast crowd. Depending on the Mass that one regularly attends or the interests that an individual might have, some parishioners may never even meet or come to know the other members of the community.

In truth the Archdiocese offers both experiences of parish life, and we all should come to respect and treasure this diverse way of living the faith of the Church according to the needs and locations of these parochial families.

I have been fortunate to witness and to share in the blessings of both types of communities. The Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, where I previously served as bishop, was largely comprised of smaller parish families—rural and small town communities of believers who rejoiced in their intimate contacts with one another and offered their members a closeness that must have resembled that of the ancient Church in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles as it was beginning to grow. Chicago and Atlanta have a large number of big parishes whose activities in service to the faith can be spectacular and enviable in their scope.

Other factors must be considered as we view these different types of parish communities. How many members of the clergy are needed effectively to care for people in large parishes? How many smaller parishes can any single pastor tend? What are the different geographic distances that ought to separate parishes? What cultural or language needs should determine the independence of a parish? How can parishes cooperate with their neighbors in providing services or functions beyond a single community? Through our Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan, we will be carefully studying and responding to these and related questions over the next five or six years.

What was clear to me last Sunday, as I visited Queen of Angels Parish, is that there are blessings to be had in both large and smaller communities and those blessings come from the deep faith of our people found in those parishes in cooperation with God’s own Grace.