By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published September 27, 2012
With the theme “Our Call to Stewardship of the Priesthood,” the 2012 Convocation of Priests gathered over 200 diocesan and religious order priests together at Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier to assess the vitality of the presbyterate and explore effective tools for improving their lives and ministries as priests.
The convocation, which is held every other year, offers time for the priests serving in the Atlanta Archdiocese to meet in an informal way, build their unity as ordained clergy and strengthen friendships as they discuss their accomplishments and their struggles together. The convocation was held from Sept. 18 to 20. In the alternating years, priests of the archdiocese gather for a joint retreat.
Seeing the priests together is great for a bishop, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said, adding that he loves to see the “great spirit of camaraderie” among the clergy that is displayed at the convocation.
With sessions mainly led by Jim Lundholm-Eades of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management and Dennis Cheesebrow of TeamWorks International, priests were given the opportunity to reflect on their practices and encouraged to discuss ways to improve their work and become good stewards of the priesthood.
The Committee for the Ongoing Formation of Priests planned the convocation. Chaired by Father Jim Schillinger, the committee includes Bishop Luis Zarama, Msgr. David Talley, Father Jim Adams, Father Ed Branch, Father Tim Hepburn, Father Omar Loggiodice, Marist Father Patrick Scully, Father Dan Stack and Father Ed Thein.
Most priests dressed in casual garb, leaving their clerics behind, as they started their mornings enjoying breakfast, coffee and the company of each other. The sessions directed the priests to pray about things they need to do to become the “happy, holy priest they want to be,” as Lundholm-Eades said.
The clergy were given time to reflect on their own before coming together in small groups to discuss their ideas, some of which were then shared with the entire group.
At the end of the final session, Lundholm-Eades and Cheesebrow asked the priests to share what their take away message was from the convocation, what one thing they discovered during the convocation that they feel will help them in their ministry as a priest.
One of the most common themes was the need to continue building up the sense of community among the priests of the archdiocese. Many of the priests voiced their delight at the informal but intimate tone of the convocation and requested that similar gatherings be arranged more often.
Some asked that monthly deanery meetings allow more time for fellowship, while others suggested weekly or monthly dinners to keep the lines of communication and support open among priests. Otherwise, there is a danger of falling into your own world, some said.
Another point of discussion was the diversity of the men serving as priests in the archdiocese. While sometimes it may seem like a hindrance to unity, the variety of cultural backgrounds and life experiences found among the priests serving in the archdiocese could also be a great blessing, the chairman of the Council of Priests said.
“We need to take advantage of the diversity that we have,” said Father Branch.
“We shouldn’t see it as a problem but as a resource,” Father Branch said.
The convocation provides much needed quiet time for the priests, who are often hemmed in by the responsibilities of the ministries they lead. The chance to have a few days to bond as priestly brothers is invaluable and often sends them back refreshed. Archbishop Gregory described the convocation as “a great joyful moment for me.”