This letter was originally published in St. Vincent’s quarterly publication, Together Sharing Christ, along with a letter from Chris McCullough and articles by Anne Maura English and Kieran Ruppert. To see the full issue, click here.
By now, as I write this, and surely by the time you read this, everybody knows that our pastoral associate, Chris McCullough, is leaving his position effective Tuesday, September 15. All of us will miss him. His gentleness, friendliness, and openness have been a significant addition to our staff. He created many projects for us and with us, such as the Advent booklets, the Lenten film series, and the Good Friday children’s service, that are real additions to our parish life and that need to be continued.
I have discussed his pending departure with him on more than one occasion, and I have tried to persuade him to stay. I have been unsuccessful. I hesitate to read his mind for you, and do not claim that what follows is as accurate or as comprehensive an answer as you could get from him in a one-on-one conversation about this matter. Still, I think I owe you as the parish family my best understanding of why it is that I could not persuade him to stay.
When we began the search that led to his selection, our idea was that the person selected would serve for two years as pastoral associate, after which I would step down from the pastorate to a position such as senior priest, and that the pastoral associate would then be promoted to pastoral life director. During the three years of the process, however, the Archdiocese’s attitude toward the office of pastoral life director changed. When I went to discuss my stepping down, I was told that I needed to either retire altogether or to remain as pastor. Should I retire, another priest would be appointed as pastor. Should I remain, I could make adjustments to staff roles, and to my own hours, but must retain the ultimate authority and responsibility of the pastor.
Under these conditions, I chose not to retire. I tried, both in theory and in practice, to delegate as much authority to Chris as I felt I could under the circumstances. I accepted decisions that I would not have made, even on important matters such as budgeting and staff configuration. I worked with administrative procedures that I would not have created, such as weekly staff meetings. Chris, from his side, made many concessions to my style and way of doing things, accepting not a few things that were not the way he would have done them. In short, we tried to work together. Both of us. We really tried.
But one thing finally stood in our way that we could not get around. Chris felt that the authority promised him when he was hired would never be complete unless he had final say over hiring and firing of staff. I felt that this was one of pastoral responsibilities that I could not give up and still tell the Archbishop with a straight face that I was continuing to exercise the role of pastor.
In sum, the role that I felt was the largest that I could give him was in his mind so much smaller than the role that he felt he had been promised that he could no longer give the job his heart. Which for him made it a matter of integrity: if you cannot give your heart to a job, you have no right to the job. You have to respect a man who makes a decision on a basis like that, whether you agree with his decision or not.
So where do we go from here? If any of you have an idea that will change his mind and heart, feel free to talk to him. But I doubt that you will have any more success than I did. So: we miss him. We remember all the things he did for us, and try to make sure that at least the best and most important of them do not die with his departure.
And we move on. Just as after a death in the family, we stop to mourn, but then we move on. We readjust roles, we reorganize schedules, we each take on new duties, and we move on.
The staff, the parish council and I have already begun thinking about how we reorganize. Should we hire another pastoral associate, with approximately the same roles and duties as Chris has had? Or do we re-divide responsibilities, modify staff definitions, and design one full-time or several part-time positions to supplement the existing staff?
What are the areas of our parish life that Chris was most involved in and therefore most need to be kept in mind in any realignment of duties? For instance, Chris has played a critical role in facilitating our ministry to young families with small children. How do we make sure that that concern does not get lost in the shuffle? This is only one example. There are others. We need to list them and make sure they are all properly cared for.
In addition to our re-thinking process, we still have all the usual ministries to carry on: celebrating the liturgy, teaching the children, feeding the poor, and so on. Our call to be a Community of Word, Sacrament and Service does not take time off while we grieve and reorganize. In addition to which, we have a number of specific projects that need to be worked on this year, such as our implementation of Laudato Si’, our participation in the Archdiocesan parish planning process (which seems now to be beginning in earnest), our planning for our 175th anniversary next year, our creation of a new parish data base, and a whole list of other things that call for the attention of our community.
And in all of this, we need to continue to pray and to work together. I need to ask everyone to help. Can you reassure someone who deeply misses Chris? Can you help by taking on a job in one of the ministries he led? For instance, who wants to take leadership of the Advent booklet this year? Can you step up and take on a role with one of the committees? Would you be willing to plan liturgies, tend gardens, or give out food? If you are in doubt about our needs for help, ask any staff or parish council member, who will be happy to help you find the right spot for you.
Remember, God is always with us, and is good news for us in bad times as well as good, in hard times as well as easy.
Peace and Love,