balancing work

Your First 6 Months in Multiparish Ministry

As more and more parishes consolidate their workforces, it’s no longer uncommon to find yourself working in ministry in a multi-parish setting. If you’re working for two (or more!) parishes, the tensions inherent in ministry are heightened, but so are the possibilities for what God can do with and through you!

Since multi-parish youth ministry became my reality in August 2021, I’ve been reflecting on what made a relatively smooth transition possible for me, my parishes, and my family. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Don’t be afraid to hit “pause” to gather information and discern your next steps. When you start this new role, you may need to change the upcoming ministry calendar – maybe drastically. Before you do, hit “pause.” Communicate a stripped-down interim calendar to buy yourself some time before making any big-picture decisions. Don’t keep doing what’s always been done at both locations in an attempt to justify your job. Cancel teen-focused programs for a while to focus on building and developing your multi-parish team. You will thank yourself later.
  2. Increase your commitment to prayer. I started working with a spiritual director over Zoom a few months before this (unexpected) transition, and BOY has that been a Providential gift. More than ever, you MUST pay attention to what God is doing in your own heart so that you can be attentive to what “new thing” God wants to do with this ministry (Isaiah 43:19).
  3. Know your limits. Assess how this new reality affects your Sabbath and recreation, your family and relationships outside of ministry, and set boundaries for how far you are willing to stretch as you work through the “getting yo know you” phase. Set a mental “deadline” by which you must be settled into a sustainable “new normal,” and if you’re not being supported in working toward healthy ministry, speak up (or discern whether God wants you to sacrifice this much…or are you just in an unhealthy workplace?).
  4. Learn to swim and find your anchor. Even if you’re a seasoned minister, adding a new parish into the mix makes you a newbie all over again. Use the wisdom of your experience, but leverage your “newbie” status in your new context to ask the “stupid” questions NOW. Even if you are well established in your first parish, you should be in learning mode. You WILL feel awkward and silly at your new parish at first and may gravitate toward the relative safety of the more familiar parish, but you must find your “anchor” in both locations. Maybe it’s setting up an appealing and functional office space in both buildings (if you’re lucky enough to be allotted two, like me). Perhaps it’s spending time with Jesus in Adoration at your new site, asking Jesus to remind you that you should feel at home wherever He is. Maybe it’s chatting with the front office staff until you feel familiar and friendly with each other.
  5. Make a plan to be STRATEGICALLY present at both sites. For example, when I was being oriented to my new parish (“Parish B”), I purposefully chose to be at Parish B’s office at Parish B on the BUSIEST day of the week. I now get much more face time with my coworkers and parishioners in a single workday than I would if I chose to be present at day and time with less foot traffic. I did the same when crafting my adapted work hours at Parish A. I still have a LOT to learn about Parish B, but I have maximized my immersion in Parish B by strategic scheduling while essentially maintaining my presence at Parish A.
  6. Invest in people and take time to get acquainted. Points 1 and 5 are really about investing in people: your team and the community at large in each parish. Most of all, though, get to know your boss(es) and the cultures of your parishes – and not just the obvious differences (language, ethnicity, charisms). What norms are there around how information gets communicated? Who are the influential adults in the parish? What are the unspoken expectations of what “the youth” do in the parish? Get to know the history of the programs you’ve “inherited.” Identify which “sacred cows” may be worth preserving initially and which need to be retired.
  7. Focus on quality over quantity. The great temptation of multi-parish ministry is to replicate the work of two (or more) employees. Even if your parishes are genuinely separate, there is a genuine value in combining youth ministry and faith formation experiences across the parishes into one. Young people typically don’t have the same hang-ups about “that parish over there” as adults often do, so they are fertile ground for ministry that acknowledges the uniqueness of one’s parish while also leaning into the universality of the Church.
  8. Leverage the resources of both locations. For example, maybe Parish A has a subscription to platform A, and Parish B has a subscription to curriculum B. Odds are you can use them across both communities, especially if you are working with a combined ministry. Or maybe you need a super-long jump rope for a teambuilding game. If Parish B has one, no need to buy one for Parish A! (Be sure to account for higher headcounts as needed, of course.)
  9. GO DIGITAL. Having your “stuff” as accessible as possible from ANY location minimizes (though it doesn’t eliminate) the stress of ensuring all your supplies are available when you need them. It’s a lesson from Covid-19 lockdown that applies even more to a multi-parish context.
  10. Know that you’re not alone. Seek out the community with others who do this work in similar contexts. Get hooked up with a mentor. Connect with the MYM community online and/or in person. You. Are. Not. Alone. in the struggles (and joys!) of multi-parish work.

Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you set up these structures and practices, you prepare yourself for the long haul. Multi-parish ministry can be a sustainable ministry.

What have you learned in multi-parish ministry? What did you wish you knew before starting?

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