On Palm Sunday (now 3 weeks ago) I announced our Bishop’s decision to name me, pastor. Since then I have received many congratulations! Thank you. I am very appreciative of both the gifts and well wishes you have extended me. Some have said: “I wondered how long it would take them to make you our pastor?!” while others have commented, “Congratulations, I thought you were our pastor all along!”
The most interesting aspect of these chats is that, time and again over these weeks, many different people have asked me, “So...do you like it here?” I find it an odd question, as if other people did not like it here, or as if here is not a likable place. I DO like it here and I shall grow into our town and into my role as best I can. We live in a straightforward place: nice town, friendly people, as the saying goes. So far, I can say it is a lovely place to call home and raise a family and form community. I have enjoyed my first months in “the Shade” and I intend to continue to make our parish my home. This spring, with help, I am putting in a vegetable garden and some new bushes at the parish house. Working in the garden, reminds me of Adam and Eve working humbly in Paradise.
Our people are warm, friendly, welcoming… but (I have the impression) at a distance. Folks are free with “hellos” but shy about sharing their stories. I have the sense that while people give me a warm smile, they are at the same time trying to decide if they like me. This has been one long job interview! Shaders have told me: “THAT is Maple Shade. You got it! They ARE checking you out!” Well, I hope they like me, because I enjoy being here and serving here. This is home. And I am delighted to call Maple Shade and OLPH my home.
We have work to do. There are many overdue decisions on my desk. First, we have not been living according to our means, but spending more than we have. The Diocese is our creditor and generous benefactor. For more than 20 years, they have extended us loans totaling more than 5 million dollars. We do not have the means to repay it. And while it may not seem obvious, many campus improvement projects are overdue.
Second, over these years weekend Mass attendance has declined, across all of NJ and the nation as a whole. We currently maintain a weekend Mass schedule from a former time. With a spacious and stately parish church, we easily accommodate 500 people at each Mass, and can hold 700+ if we are cozy. Yet for some Masses, only 75 to 150 people attend. For me these Masses lack the vibrancy of our more popular Masses. I want all our Masses to be vibrant, enlivening, warm and full of song and hearts ready to praise the Lord! In order to adapt to our new reality, in this coming year, we will be reconfiguring the Sunday Mass schedule from 4 (7:30 - 9 - 10:30 - 12:00) to 3 (tbd, maybe 8 - 10 - 12?), but more on that later. My goal is vibrancy and an increased sense of family and community! These are just two neglected areas that require our attention and adaptability.
As we journey together in the Shade, I ask for your continued prayers, love and support. For me, this is a daunting task. I promise you my prayers, love and support. As I have said before, I look forward to working with you to transform our little corner of the world into a beautiful garden for God.
May God reward our efforts!