Creating vibrant parish clusters



By Laurie Hallstrom

At the center of Catholic worship is the church community where a parishioner feels a sense of belonging. Pending changes to church clusters are intended to bring new spiritual life to the faithful in the northern tier of the Diocese of Rapid City.

A combined team of 13 clergy and laity has spent the past 15 months assessing the pastoral needs of parishes in Harding, Perkins and Corson Counties. Bishop Robert Gruss convened the Reservation and Rural Ministry Planning Team in March 2015

Fr. Steve Biegler, vicar general of the diocese, and committee chair said he told the new group as the diocese looks to the future, “It is important to take the time to update our vision for ministry on the Reservations and in the rural parishes.”

Meetings were held in the churches in the three counties to give team members a familiarity with the ministry that is already taking place. Summarizing the conclusions recommended by the team, Father Biegler said, “This process of involving clergy and lay people was fruitful. It was modeled after the training (priests took from the Catholic Leadership Institute of Wayne, Pa.) “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds,” said Father Biegler. “It could be used in the future for other areas of the diocese.”

After months of consideration three new parish configurations were recommended to the bishop. (See page 5 for a letter from Bishop Gruss detailing changes that will take place July 1.)

“When parish representatives first came on the team they were biased toward their own parish. When we had the last meeting they knew some parishes didn’t meet the criteria that we were looking for in healthy and holy parishes and they realized it was time to let them go,” said Deacon Leneaugh. “Every meeting we had would bring people closer to creating a vision of what you want ministry to be for the whole community.”

The team goal sought to determine if the parishes in those counties were vibrant and life sustaining. Every aspect of lay participation, liturgical celebration and ongoing education for both adults and children was reviewed. In the end, Mass will no longer be offered at St. Agnes, Cox, and Our Lady of the Prairie, Reva. Those parishes will be merged with St. Anthony, Buffalo.

St. Bede, Wakpala, will not have Mass, but other types of ministry will take place as needed. “New types of ministry involving the community like prayer services and youth activities can take place there,” said Deacon Leneaugh. After one year the church usage will be evaluated to determine if keeping the building open is a good idea.

July 1, when the changes are made, “the advantage to the parishioners is a higher quality liturgy because there is more participation, more singing, and more people assisting the minister,” he said.

Other team members included: Fr. Andrea Benso, McLaughlin and missions; Father Tony Grossenburg, Lemmon and missions; Father John Heying, Buffalo and missions; Father John Lule, McIntosh and missions; Deacon Paul and Margie Keller, Mobridge; Noelle Benson and Gloria Maher, Morristown; Jim Erk, Buffalo; Georgia Andre, Bullhead; and Father Dan Juelfs, Eagle Butte and missions.

“I deeply appreciate the hard work of this committee over these many months,” said Bishop Gruss