There are Times to use Cookie-Cutters
Priests do not meet the cookie-cutter image of popular imagination, but as different as they are, maybe in parish management a cookie-cutter approach is needed, argues Fr Chris Townsend.
Having completed a move to a new parish responsibility lately, I’ve had reason to pause and think about the generations of priesthood.
Unlike cookie-cutter images of the priesthood that are perpetuated in media— and which, quite frankly, would make life a lot easier if they were true—we are all individuals and bring our own personalities to our ministry. We also bring our unique reception of formation and experience, and use that for our engagement in our communities.
This unique reaction to the life we have lived as priests has its funny and sad moments. I admit that moving parishes gets more difficult. As you get older, when you arrive in a new church and a new presbytery, you know what you like. You know what you need.
So when I removed the old mattress in the presbytery’s bedroom, I was reminded of an older colleague who once stated that he didn’t know why priests had to get a new mattress. After all, he had slept in Fr X’s bed for years…
We are also very different in the ways we manage our responsibilities.
I remember another older priest who fancied himself as a handyman, having constructed and reconstructed his presbytery and office space in his own image. It made perfect sense to him and he was incredibly proud of it — but to the outsider, it was a rabbit warren of wires and complete mystery. One light switch today switched on this light, tomorrow it didn’t.
Some of us are hoarders and others their complete opposite, the Scandinavian zen office filing approach. So in one parish I arrived in, every piece of scrap roneo and photocopy paper had been preserved. Rooms full! Yellowed, water-stained and useless. In another parish, I arrived and was handed one (recycled) brown manila envelope that held the entire financial archive of the parish. All of three pages.
King IV report, SARS and the Gospel
As we are challenged to become more professional in our approach to administration — externally driven by such requirements as the King IV report, the requirements of SARS and internally driven by the Gospel imperative to accountability — we need to work to a standard of administration that will see a common, standardised procedure and expectation.
I honestly think that we priests need to be able to build a manual of what is required and then do the most difficult of all things: hand this over to competent and trained parishioners who manage this.
Part of this difficulty is to ensure that parish finance committees are trained and then empowered to their role.
In fact, I strongly believe that the name “finance committee” is probably part of the problem. It is essentially a parish material or management committee. A finance committee must be responsible for anything you can touch or stab. If we separate the pastoral from the management process, I think we will go a long way to restoring the role proper to each.
There is both space and need to beef up our administration of the good and the goods of the Church. A cookie-cutter image, in this particular instance, might not be a bad idea.