GREENVILLE — Widespread changes throughout the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids will have a direct effect on several local Catholic churches in the Ionia and Montcalm county areas.
On April 12 the Diocese of Grand Rapids released its “Our Faith, Our Future” pastoral plan, a plan described to “establish a well-defined direction for future decisions and facilitate change to assure a strong and vibrant Church in the 11-county diocese,” according to a statement released by the diocese.
Locally, this means changes coming to five area churches.
Effective today, St. Joseph in Belding will be clustered with St. Charles Parish in Greenville.
According to information released by the diocese, this cluster will involve the use of one priest to be shared between the two churches, and at St. Joseph, “the Parish shall continue to cooperate with Catholic Schools to actively promote and support Catholic education.”
Between the two churches, the Mass schedule will be reduced by one “so that the pastor is not celebrating more than three weekend Masses in accordance with church law.”
According to the diocese, the merging and closing of certain churches throughout 11 counties is attributed to several reasons, including declining and growing populations, shifting cultural attitudes, new generations of Catholics in church, a growth in the Hispanic community and fewer clergy.
“For the church in the Diocese of Grand Rapids to realize its goals, it must strategically follow a clear direction over many years toward a vision that is widely understood and embraced,” said the Rev. Monsignor William H. Duncan, vicar general for the diocese and overall coordinator of the planning process. “This plan will fulfill the church’s mission to face (these) new challenges.”
For St. Mary’s Miriam Church in Belding, a merging will take place.
According to the Diocese, St. Mary’s Miriam will merge with St. Joseph and be maintained as a chapel with Mass celebrated on Sunday for “as long as possible.”
According to the diocese, Santa Clara Mission in Coral will merge with Mary Queen of Apostles in Sand Lake and serve as a summer chapel from approximately Easter through October.
St. Margaret of Scotland (Harvard) in Cedar Springs will also serve as a chapel attached to Mary Queen Apostles Parish. The chapel will remain a worship site until it is moved to a new site in Cedar Springs.
When seeking comment from local area churches, all questions by The Daily News were asked to be forwarded to the Diocese of Grand Rapids.
“Our challenge was how best to aid in developing a plan that would allow all people of the diocese to be represented in the final vision,” said Paul Judd, parish lay leader and member of St. Mary Church in Lowell. “The greatest joy was discovering the commonalities we have as members of the church as we discussed how best to use our God-given resources and to create a more vibrant, connected diocesan community all working toward bringing Christ to all we encounter.”
Each area of the diocese was asked to construct and submit a five- to 10-year vision, addressing issues such as shifting demographic trends in parishes and their surrounding communities, Catholic school programming, parish evangelization and formation, buildings and maintenance, finances and pastoral needs. Based on information and feedback received throughout the process, each deanery then developed and presented a proposed plan for approval by the bishop.
“I am truly grateful for the time and effort contributed by so many throughout this process,” said the Most Rev. Walter A. Hurley, bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids. “We entered the planning process with prayerful consideration and with the intention of preserving our churches while developing new or reconfigured administrative structures to support our mission. Together, we have sought to create a new energy and vision that will enable us to look to the future with hope and confidence with a collective commitment to build a more vibrant church.”