The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has proposed a sweeping church reorganization proposal that would consolidate individual parishes into “clusters.” The change is in response to the declining number of priests available, and will be completed by 2010.

Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and South Portland would all comprise one cluster and share two priests between the five churches, including seasonal Pine Point. There are now three priests – one in each town.

Clusters are groups of parishes that will work together to discuss how to continue to make the Eucharist regularly available and specifically how many Masses will be offered by priests each weekend, according to information from the Diocese.

“Emphasis will be on the true meaning of parish as a community of Christian faithful, which has the sufficient size to carry out the sacraments, rather than a church building,” the announcement says.

The clusters will find themselves with greater resources of people and finances than any individual parish would have on its own, the Diocese states.

“It removes from each local community a sense of isolation and strengthens it by associating it with other local communities who share the same faith journey,” according to the statement. “This could be especially important in groupings of small, rural parishes.”

Currently, there are no plans to close any of the state’s churches. But, under the reorganization plan, each individual cluster will be allowed to make its own decision regarding its buildings, staff and activities. Any significant change made within the cluster would have to be approved by the bishop. But closings are not the purpose of the change.

“We’re hopeful not a lot of doors will be closing,” said Sue Bernard, communications director for the diocese.

In total there will be 27 clusters statewide. The clusters were selected based upon commonalities between towns including geographic, economic and social characteristics.

There are four ways that a cluster can be run. Each option includes one pastor and a centralized team and council to run the cluster. The parishes in a cluster could be formed together or remain separate. In addition, the cluster could choose to build a single church, which would be funded by the sale of the cluster’s other churches. The final model is a combination of all of the models, according to the proposal report.

An 18-member committee primarily consisting of lay people, but also including some clergy developed the proposal. The plan was developed during a six-month time span and was submitted to the bishop in January. It was approved and released to the public late past week.

There already are some clusters in Maine where two or three parishes share a priest, Bernard said.

“This is just going to really put everybody on the same page,” she said.

The church is hoping that people will become more active within their respective churches and perform some of the acts that they are allowed to, which in turn would give priests the opportunity better focus on their duties.

“We’re hopeful that the lay people will step up to the plate and take on some of the work of the mission,” Bernard said. “We want people to really participate, not just come to church, but participate.”

For the full report, visit the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland’s Web site at www.portlanddiocese.net.


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