Over the last few months I have been participating in a Periodic Review of Priestly Ministry. This coincides with the approach of the end of my first term as pastor of Saint Clement Parish. Members of the parish staff, parish leadership and parishioners at large participated by way of an electronic survey. I am deeply grateful for the considerable time and effort these seventy-five people spent looking at the health of the parish and my leadership here as pastor. Great care was given to completing the survey and writing specific comments and suggestions. These have been extremely helpful in drilling down into the results.
The broad areas of review include Proclaimer of God’s Word, Leader of Worship, Builder of Community, Steward of Community Resources, Personal and Professional Qualities. In general, the numeric and written responses were very affirming. At the same time, there are areas I can identify as opportunities for personal and parish growth. These areas of strength and opportunity are generally not a surprise to me. In most cases the lowest score was given by me. I am aware that not everyone who requested a review survey was given one by the Archdiocese. I welcome any comments that you would like to forward me, especially from those who were unable to participate.
As a pastor, the spiritual leadership, pastoral management and my own personality are intertwined in my relationships and actions. The review of my priestly ministry touches on all of these areas.
Results of Review
For those who like metrics, each statement in the survey was to be rated on a scale from 1 to 7. Almost all items average ratings above 6, highest 6.92, none below 5.33, though some items cover the full range of 1-7. I suppose the ultimate question is should I be a pastor and should I be a pastor at Saint Clement? 98% of respondents thought I should be a pastor and 96% thought I should be the pastor of Saint Clement.
The areas named as my strengths and apparent priorities were the liturgy, preaching, presiding at liturgy, faithful understanding of the church teachings (though not everyone thought so), spiritual growth and well-being of parishioners, young adults, support for the school, and parishioner engagement. Most people felt that the parish has grown and that in general parishioners’ spiritual needs are being met.
Some areas pointed out for programmatic improvement included enhanced catechetical and sacramental preparation, outreach to the alienated and un-churched, more sensitivity to women’s issues, and the respect for, training and supervision of lay ministers.
As leader and manager: more regular review, evaluation and revision of programs, staff reviews and coordination and delegation of responsibilities. A number of comments suggest that I be more decisive and directive, while being more collaborative and transparent. Also to handle conflict more immediately and directly. People would also like more specific affirmations from me as well as being more immediately responsive to email and more present to all parish groups.
As far as personal and professional qualities, it is suggested that I become more extroverted and outgoing. My priest confidant, who helps in reading these results suggested, “They would like to get to know you more.”
Some Reflections and Response
On a personal level, I am more on the introverted, deliberative side of the spectrum. Personality theory suggests you don’t change these things. Though you can round them out or learn to use them to accomplish your goals. And some would suggest you become more set later in life. Though most people gave my preaching and writing high marks, I realize, even more specifically with the help of the StrengthsFinder that “communication” is not my most natural instinctive strength. I will try to both nurture my contemplative side and seek help in developing an effective communication strategy. I plan to do more frequent writing in various parish communication forums as well as a more deliberate plan of visiting with parish groups. I have asked the staff to use me strategically and the pastoral council to monitor my communication and collaboration.
As to my strengths and priorities, I believe overall that I am perceived correctly. Assisting people in their personal response to the universal call to holiness is the bottom line purpose for a parish. The liturgy is the central place we reflect on and grow in that call as Catholics. It is also the place most people regularly encounter the Church. While I fully embrace the complete responsibilities of the role of pastor, I am stronger in the pastoral than the managerial.
In terms of programmatic review and organization: We are currently using the Archdiocesan parish review and planning process called Parish Transformation. Over the past seven or eight years there have been two major surveys and a series of focus groups to measure the pulse of the parish and the effectiveness of all our activity. We spent the last year writing a new mission statement, vision statement, and guiding summary of both. Our continued reflection on the parish spirituality of stewardship has coalesced into five main actions: pray, serve, give, learn, belong. Our parish organizational scheme and new website is now organized under those headings. Relevant numerics such as the October Count (down over the past five years) and the Sunday Collection (down over the last five years) will be used. This information will aid the work of the parish transformation team. The process will result in written pastoral priorities looking into the next five to ten years. This will shape programmatic decisions and give a clearer language to a regular review of programs and priorities.
Though not a specific area in the survey, a number of people urged me to be more direct in asking parishioners to “step up“ to their financial responsibility to support the parish. I agree that it seems that more direct asks are necessary, while still maintaining the ultimate goal of a spirituality of stewardship by enhanced engagement. This is perhaps the most vexing for me of the vast array of responsibilities of being pastor. And at the heart of our spirituality.
I am also aware that my time is often stretched with responsibilities and opportunities to serve outside or auxiliary to the parish. As a Dean, I attend and or organize some eighty meetings a year. We welcome seminarians and interns to the parish each year. This requires additional meetings and training. I am asked to participate in or consult with Archdiocesan events or agencies in the course of a year. I am often tempted to drop them all in favor of greater focus on the parish. But I am committed to the formation of priests and the growth of parish life. I have a hard time saying no to these opportunities. Being pastor of Saint Clement Parish automatically puts me on the list for some of these kinds of things. I also have always believed that a priest should serve his parish, the greater church, and the wider community.
I want to thank all who participated in this review process. I am humbled by the positive feedback and grateful for the thoughtful recommendations, both personal and ministerial.
I am honored to serve as your pastor at Saint Clement. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve you and to be in this most dynamic community and beautiful worship setting.
Please hold me in your prayers as I pray for you.
Fr. Ken Simpson