When Katarina Schuth asked priests who pastor more than one parish what they find most rewarding about their present assignment: “Above all they mention the connections they have with parishioners.” Thanks to Schuth’s research, readers of this book are able to obtain numerous valuable connections with these priests—what they find satisfying or helpful or difficult, and what advice they have for themselves and those around them.
In the first part of her study, Schuth marshals the statistics of her research to present the “inconvenient truth” of some of the dramatic changes occurring in parish ministry in the United States. By revealing that 44 percent of all parishes and missions in the U.S. share a pastor, she shows that “multiple-parish pastoring” cannot any longer be viewed as a minor issue. She suggests that the geographic disparities in this phenomenon (common in rural areas, and much less so in large urban archdioceses) may account for some past neglect of the issue.
Thanks to a survey that profiles the experiences of more than one fifth of the priests engaged in this ministry, Schuth is able to present, with clarity and in detail, a picture of who these men are, the context of their work, and a self-assessment of their relative strengths and weaknesses.
The two most interesting and valuable sections of this report focus on the experience of this type of ministry and recommendations for future ministry. Together, they account for two thirds of the book, and they offer compelling reading for policymakers (bishops, their staffs, and diocesan councils), practitioners (pastors and other parish staff members), and people in the pews.
In these two sections, Schuth combines her survey research with the results of in-depth interviews of 70 pastors to craft an enlightening picture of the challenges, frustrations, and rewards of pastoring more than one parish, as well as the steps that can be taken to improve both the ministry of these priests and the quality of parish life for those entrusted to their care.
Schuth’s study is remarkably clear and captivating. While her subject is the priestly life and ministry of these dedicated pastors, it also serves to bring into focus the surrounding issues of parish structure and what needs to be done to foster vibrant faith communities. The brief and aptly titled concluding chapter, “Listening and Learning,” provides a concise summary and compelling agenda for pastoral planning and action.
Priests, deacons, lay people, and bishops will find this book an invaluable resource in their efforts to improve the quality of parish ministry and life.