Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Speaking the truth in love

By Juan Contreras
 (Posted here because of length and posting issues)

So I have contemplated all day what to write about the Parish Council meeting last night and initially I was going to refrain from providing any commentary, but this blog thread has gotten out of control – regardless of what side of the fence you are on. But, at the same time, that is to be expected because the SOP team, as well as the Parish council, has exerted a tremendous amount of time and energy to their cause. As has proven to be the case on other threads the rumors, half-truths, and attacks have taken over the conversation and I ask…when will level heads prevail?
 With that said I would like to provide you my observations from last night’s meeting and agree with or counter some of the statements that have been posted in the preceding comments.
I would like to open with a thanks to Steve Rossettie for allowing SOP to consume the vast majority of the 15 minutes, normally, allotted for the open forum and then allotting an additional ten minutes for others to ask questions or make their points of view heard. We, as SOP, came to the meeting to offer our assistance to the Parish Council and administration in whatever way we could to help restore our faith community and heal this divide that now exists. Of course, right away, we knew no decisions would be made since Deacon Dean was not in attendance. Regardless, we presented the information in the executive summary (linked above). Per a request from Steve we supplied him with the executive summary, or list of requested information and questions prior to the meeting. What this implied to us was that we could expect that there would be some form of an attempt to address our questions and requests for information. Granted some of the information was made available on the Parish website prior to the meeting, and we greatly appreciate that, but other requests were not even mentioned by the council. Cory, and others, make a valid point that the council normally just sits and listens, but it you ask for information and questions before a meeting the least you could do is acknowledge they exist but will not be answered. The same goes for the questions we supplied prior to the meeting. The knowledge was present to answer some of our questions, but again they were not addressed. I am not saying they were ignored and they may very well be answered at tomorrow’s meeting, but common courtesy and decorum would imply they acknowledged they had not given us answers.

As we were providing our presentation to the meeting we were subjected to open hostility and contempt from certain members of the council. There were instances of people rolling their eyes, laughing and generally showing a complete lack of interest and disregard or what we were saying. I am not asking them to agree or take detailed notes on our presentation but the least you could do is listen and withhold judgment until we have made our presentation. For those members of the council (and we can provide names if necessary, but no need to embarrass them for their lack of professionalism) what your attitudes and demeanor did was just reaffirm what the majority of Parishioners already believe: you are not interested in hearing, accepting or acting on their opinions and ideas. Their actions and attitude were very similar to that exhibited by Mr. Cassidy at the September 12 meeting when after hearing an elderly parishioner express her concern about attending Mass at St. Mary’s in the winter time, due to the steps and hills , he told her to “just stay home.”  Truly appalling behavior from one on the council and if that is truly your opinion and attitude I would suggest you leave your post. Honestly, how can anyone expect you to act in the best interest of the council when you make such a statement? Finally, I would like to once again, thank Steve Rossettie for actively listening to our presentation and taking notes on what was said.
For those expecting us to have presented concrete ideas and/or actionable plans I have one question: how can you expect us to have these things after three months and without all the information if the facilities council failed to develop these same things after studying the issue for three years? Let’s be fair people and not try to hold us to a higher standard than we hold those who are tasked with making the decisions. After all, we are still awaiting receipt of our requested information so that we can develop an actionable plan to tackle some of the necessary items.

Once we concluded our presentation, Steve allowed five more Parishioners to ask questions of provide their opinion. There were those for and against SOP but more importantly there were those who just wanted their voices heard. One Parishioner (and I will not use names because I did not receive their person before doing so) made a very profound statement when they stated “Action without vision is a nightmare” and that is what we are currently living. What is the vision for our Parish? Their follow-on question to that statement was “where is the strategic plan to move the Church forward” because, as they stated, they did not see it. Another Parishioner asked two very good questions:
1)      Does the Lord want another tabernacle removed?, and
2)      Is this God’s will?
These are things we should all pray on, long and hard, hoping that the Lord provides us some insight into what his plan is for our Parish.
This brings me to those who opposed SOP of which there was one who was openly hostile and another who questioned the fact that the web site provided information for those Parishioners who have chosen to redirect their contributions elsewhere. To him I would like to say, first off, I applaud your willingness to increase your contributions when you saw that there would be those directing their contributions elsewhere. Honestly, this is the type of willingness we need from every Parishioner who is not tithing their full 10%. Remember God rewards those who give of their first fruits (a fact my wife and I have come to realize over the last two years when we have increased our contribution from 2% to almost 9%, with the goal to reach 10% next year) and your willingness to bear an increase burden should be applauded and emulated by all. As for you taking issue with the fact that the web site provided information on how to contribute elsewhere I am sorry but all we were doing was providing information. Granted the letters were rather pointed (and were taken down) but there was no attempt at coercion or force to get people to leave. People had already made those decisions on their own and without any undue influence.
Then there was Karen (Her I am not going to attempt to protect) who opened by stating her support for the council, not a problem. But then she went on to question SOP’s means and the fact we had not come up with any ideas. As for our means…we have made attempts to reach out and involve the Parish council and administration in our efforts and were initially rebuffed. We asked them to attend the meeting on September 12th and Fr. Lew was on the only one who showed up. Thus, we were forced by necessity to undertake other forms of communication to have the Parishioner’s voices heard. If that is found to be objectionable or questionable, then so be it. We, in turn, question the means by which the Parish is being lead. We question the means by which decisions are being made. We question the concern, demonstrated and otherwise, to achieve the ASP mission statement.  Actions speak louder than words and we are acting on our beliefs and desire to heal our Parish. What are you doing?
Let me answer my own question…you are attempting to quiet us and beat us down. Well it is not going to happen because we have the backing of the majority of the Parishioners. We will make their voice and opinions heard.
What you are, also, doing is telling us about the problems of the last 10 – 20 years and how these issues are not new. Well I find no comfort in that argument. These problems have not been solved by reducing staff or the selling of buildings, so maybe it is time to take a fresh approach. What has caused the problems? A lack of contributions and income. How do you increase contributions and income? Make the Parish welcoming for new members and comfortable and familial for current members. Of course we currently do neither. We fired the person responsible for welcoming new members and what has been the result? For the three years I have been a member of the Parish our RCIA classes and family faith formation had large numbers of attendee’s and this year I know of only one. And as far as making the Parish comfortable and familial to current members…we fail here to but the causes of this issue are well known and the selling of a Church campus is not going to resolve them.
I am not blind and as Steve pointed out to the reporter, it may come down to selling a Church, ASA or something else to resolve the financial issues of the Parish. But I would like to add that it should not be done without Parishioner input and, at a minimum, affording them the opportunity to do something about it. What if the sale of any Church building were delayed, at least, one year with the caveat that the Parishioners would have to raise $XXX to make XXX repairs? Then we, Parishioners, would have to put our “time, talent and treasure” where our mouths are. But to offer us no input and show an open hostility to open communication will not help solve any of the issues we currently face as a Parish.
In closing I would like to thank the council for allowing us to speak and I would challenge each and every Parishioner to pray for our Parish, pray that where are headed is God’s will, pray for those you agree with and, more importantly, those you do not.

God Bless,
Juan Contreras,
SOP Member


  1. Juan- You were recently referred to as the voice of reason for the SOP. Let's hope and pray that these words are taken to heart.

  2. Impressive response. Why isn't this guy on the Parish Council? For the past few years, those who disgree with parish decisions have been discredited and mocked. There is no sin in challenging leaders, even in the Church. It is how we go about these things matters most. I support the SOP and pray for their continued presense in this faith community.

  3. To Juan:

    Your response is both in the spirit of Christian charity and with an olive branch extended. If some in parish leadership do not reciprocate, shake the dust from your sandals and continue with the work God has called you to do. There is little doubt that you are following the lead of the Holy Spirit. May God bless you in your efforts to save our Parish.

  4. Juan,

    Well said! I don't comment on the blog much as it is not my favorite medium but after reading you post I had to change my mind on that. What a blessing you are to the parish. I am looking forward to the meeting tonight with Deacon Dean and committee chairs.

  5. What a sad time....the people who we have to represent us on Parish Council and Finance sit there and treat our concerns about St. Vincent's as a joke or something they can't be bothered with...Maybe the Holy Spirit could enlighten them...

  6. Juan,

    Once again, I am in awe of you and your ability to so passionately present your point of view. You truly are a gift to this parish.

    "We can do all things through Him that strengthens..."

    May the Holy Spirit be present in each of you tonight as you dialogue with Deacon Dean and the Committee Chairs.

  7. Thumbs up to Juan. Lead the troops- you have an army behind you and the Holy Spirit before you.

  8. God bless you Mr. Contreras. You speak the truth. It is about time that the parishioners pushed back. Like many, I have grown weary with a style of leadership that excludes those who think differently. This is our parish and we must all have a voice. Thank you.

  9. I agree with above post- let's get Juan on the parish council and the finance council and the facilities council. We are currently represented by people who are not a fair representation of the parish. How can there be unanimous agreement from the councils when the parish is so divided?

  10. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those meeting this evening. May the Holy Spirit guide you and help open doors to begin a healing process. We need to work together, help each other, believe in each other.

    Isn't this what Jesus would want us to do?

    God has a plan for all of us.

  11. Juan,

    First, there is no room in a Christian forum for the contempt and derision you describe. I would find it difficult to contain my anger.

    I have a simple question. If SOP knew they were scheduled to meet with Dean and other parish leadership, why is it so difficult accept that the Council meeting was primarily for listening? It seems to me that SOP is being recognized by the meeting with leadership, and I pray that there is listening on both sides...and that soon we will no longer be referring to sides. We should be holding our powder before intimating that requests for information will not be forthcoming or that questions will not be addressed. Maybe they will. I hope they will and in a way that moves us all forward together.