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Phase two parishes examine issues and solutions in family meetings

The middle of Chautauqua County used to have six independent parishes spread out along the lake. Due to the shortage of priests the six worship sites still stand, but now as part of three parishes having only two pastors. Each site can only have one Sunday Mass. 

This is an example of the need for the Road for Renewal plan.

Family 5 includes St. Mary of Lourdes Parish in Bemus Point and Mayville; Christ our Hope in Sherman and Clymer; and St. Dominic in Westfield and Brocton Parishes.

Those three parishes will become one family as part of Phase 2 of the Road to Renewal. Jim Wehrfritz is one of two Renewal representatives for St. Mary of Lourdes Parish. He represents the Bemus Point worship site, while Ann Akin reps for the Mayville site. They are the lay representatives that bring information about the Renewal into the parish through meetings and parish bulletin announcements.

They also led the Disciple Maker Survey earlier this year, which received a high level of participation in the parish.

“That was very successful. We got over 130 people to participate in the survey and we got some really good, I think, statistically valid results. We completed the analysis of that for our parish,” Wehrfritz said.

The family will take part in the Catholic Leadership Institute “to see what the similarities and differences are coming out of the survey.” The CLI program provides bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay persons with pastoral leadership formation and consulting services that strengthen their confidence and competence in ministry, enabling them to articulate a vision for their local church.

As a 35-year employee for ExxonMobil, Wehrfritz has had experience in reorganizing and learning from pilot programs. He also sees a need for it, especially in his area of the diocese.

When the parish family members first met, they found that some of the ministries, such as Holy Name Society and the Knights of Columbus, are in only one parish in the family, and now will be accessible to everyone in the family.

“(The Renewal is) really a good thing,” Wehrfritz said. “As we come together as a family, I think our parishioners are going to have more opportunities to participate in more ways.”

They are examining ways to work around the obstacles the new family format may bring. One issue that concerns them is travel between parishes. Some elderly parishioners may not be able to drive 20 miles in the snow to attend an event or meeting in a far-off church. The survey showed that most parishioners tend to be seniors. “That’s a specific challenge that we’ll have to figure out, but it’s fixable,” said Wehrfritz.

Wehrfritz admits there is some skepticism in his parish about what the final changes will be. He was not living in Western New York during the Journey of Faith and Grace, when St. Mary’s worship sites merged into one parish, but has heard some stories from people unhappy with the results.

“There are some questions relative to what’s this really going to mean. Because I think there were some hard feelings about how some of that was done or how it came down. So, there is a little bit of skepticism and concern,” he said.

Wehrfritz, himself, is happy with the information he receives from the diocese. Although he admits it can be slow coming, but he has spoken with Sarah Osmanski and Deacon Greg Moran, and feels he could call Father Bryan Zielenieski in the Renewal office if necessary.

“All the information is not always flowing out as quickly as some of the questions that are raised in my mind, but I’ve always been able to get what I needed one way or another,” Wehrfritz said.

Barb Weingart, the parish representative from St. Dominic’s in Westfield and Brocton, sees a need for change in the parish structure.

 “I think we’re all OK with the concept,” she said. “We need to work together. We need to be a team. We need not to be selfish, and put our own needs first.”

The area recently lost Father Todd Remick when he moved to Jamestown after the death of Father Dennis Mende. Father David Tourville and Father Romulo Montero now cover six churches.

“They’ve had to adjust the Mass schedule. The guys are over worked but it’s gone well,” Weingart said.

Father Tourville has been pro-active and has talked about it. Barb and her husband, Don, have given a presentation regarding the Disciple Makers Index Survey.

“We have to be fair and we have to think of the priests. They can only do so much,” she said. “I think we all need to work together. We all need to give. We need to not be selfish with our needs. We need to think of other people. We need to be fair to other people.”

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