By Fr. Michael Peltzer
On Father’s Day weekend, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The parish of St. Joan of Arc in Harper
County, where I am serving, has three beautiful churches taking care of one parish family: St. Patrick Church in
Harper, historic Immaculate Conception Church in Danville, and Sacred Heart Church in Anthony. All three former parishes were consolidated into one parish in 1997, while keeping the three buildings as worship sites for the new parish.
The consolidation and merging of parishes in the United States is becoming more widespread as we deal with the shortage of available priests. Many people have asked me over the years: “How is it possible to keep a parish together when the Eucharist every weekend is celebrated in three different places?”
It is only natural that this dilemma increases when any parish community encompasses a variety of different social and economic groups. They may range from wealthy to low income people; they may be young people who prefer the kind of music in the liturgy which reflects their tastes, while the more traditional people advocate a completely different route. They may be people from different ethic groups who speak many languages, and the list goes on. Again, how is it possible to achieve unity in such a community?
St. Paul faced the same challenges in the early church, especially with the Corinthians. He encouraged them to “mend their ways, help one another, agree with one another, and live in peace. ” He also encouraged them to repair damages to their community caused by the feuding of various factions within it. In this way, he asked for the healing of rifts in the community. Unity, then, would come. It is very clear that St. Paul follows this appeal for unity by a special blessing which invokes the three Persons of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. By doing this, he used the words: “The grace of the Lord Jesus and love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!” Such a grace would provide the strength through which the Corinthians – and the St. Joan of arc Parishioners – achieved that unity.
Three churches, one parish. Three communities, one pastor. Three wonderful groups of parishioners, working together to keep one parish family. Finally, there are the three Divine Persons, one God. As there spiritual leader, I am proud of our parishioners from the three churches who do make efforts of working and praying together – bringing about the realization of the parish mission statement envisioned by former pastor Father Robert Hartmann and the parishioners back in 1997: “Our vision is to know, love and serve God and one another in a vibrant Catholic community centered in the Eucharist!”