Parish Newsletter

A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        March, 2009

A Change of Pastors

This is a critical moment in the life of a parish.  A new pastor means a new culture.  If it is managed well, it can be a graced and joyful experience.  If not, the effects of it can linger for many years.  What follows are key ingredients that need to be included in this transition process if it is to be successful.


Create a Transition Team

Soon after the pastor has made known that he will be moving, a transition team of six to nine people needs to be form to shepherd the parish through this critical shift in leadership.  The makeup of the group should include one staff person (not the pastor), a pastoral council member (not the chair), two or three from parish commissions or other leadership groups, one or two people who experienced the previous transition of pastors, and a few parishioners not involved in the current leadership to provide an objective perspective.  The purpose of the team is to help the pastor put closure to his term, guide the staff, leaders and people through the change, and welcome the new pastor, providing him with insights and feedback when necessary.

Profile of the Parish

One of the first tasks of the Transition Team is to create a description of the parish for the new pastor.  If the prospective pastor has not yet been chosen, then the team would submit this parish profile to the diocesan personnel board as a help in finding the best “fit” for the parish.  This description of the history, make-up, structure and “culture” of the parish is formed from consultations with the staff, council, leaders and people.  It should be brief but informative, including what aspects people feel should be retained, what could be let go of and what new things might be introduced in the near future.

Tasks for the Current Pastor

Some of the questions a pastor needs to ask himself over the last few months of his pastorate are: To whom do I need to say goodbye and when?  What must I let go of and leave behind?  What decisions do I need to make so that the incoming pastor won’t be facing some of the things I had to deal with when first I came?  What break time will I plan for myself during this transition?  The pastor must also attend to the feelings of the staff because they are most at risk when a new pastor is appointed.  Will they still have their jobs?  He will need to work with the transition team and other key groups in planning rituals of leave-taking.


Plan an Interim Period

When the current pastor leaves, arrange for some other priests to preside at the liturgies for a few weeks so that the new pastor does not have to follow on the heels of the one leaving.  This short breathing space of two or three weeks is helpful both to the pastors and to the parishioners.  It gives them time to let go of one before having to welcome the next.


Welcome the New Pastor

Know when the new priest will be arriving so that a ritual of welcoming can be built into the weekend liturgies, as well as the first encounters with the staff, council and commissions.  The transition team has the task of gaining the trust of the new pastor, providing encouragement, insight and feedback about how he is connecting with various segments of the parish.  It usually takes six months until both pastor and people are comfortable with each other.  (For more on this key moment of parish life, see Changing Pastors, Sweetser and McKinney, Sheed and Ward, 1998.)