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A new assignment

Leaving a parish is never easy,  but with change comes opportunity

by Father Ron Hutchinson

“There is an appointed time for everything and a time for everything under the heaven.” –Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1

After keeping the secret for many months, I recently announced to the parishioners at Holy Redeemer Parish in Jenison that my term as their pastor was ending on June 30. I have served the diocese in a parish setting for 21 years – 13 of those at Holy Redeemer Parish. On July 1, I will become the full-time director of priestly vocations, without any responsibilities to a parish community.

This is going to be an exciting challenge for me. Promoting vocations and directing the formation of our seminarians without the distractions of other responsibilities means I will be able to focus all my energy on this important ministry. Over the past 10 years, I have watched the number of men being served by the Office of Priestly Vocations rise steadily, which has meant that dividing my time and energy between vocations work and parish ministry has become quite challenging. I appreciate Bishop Walkowiak’s support for priestly vocations and his commitment to this important ministry by allowing me to focus all my energy on it. But with opportunity comes change.

And, let’s face it, most of us don’t like change. Even when we say we understand change or appreciate it, we aren’t really telling the truth, because we find change difficult. We want everything to stay the same. That is also true when it comes to parish life. We know pastors don’t stay in one place for that long and yet we become frustrated by the inevitability of change. That is true for parishioners, and it is also true for priests. Even when we initiate the change, it is still hard for us.

Even knowing that we will one day be moved, a priest accepts his future while, at the same time, he becomes invested in the community he is serving. We don’t serve a community as a distant bystander, but as someone who becomes part of the family. Even knowing that our future departure will cause us pain, we let our guard down, opening our lives and hearts to the parish community we serve. Little by little, we become part of the parish community – its history, its present and its future. Although I haven’t had much experience at leaving a parish community, I will admit that each time I have done it, I have found it painful. Just like a tree that has sunk its roots into the soil in which it is planted, we priests sink our “roots” into the community we serve. Goodbyes are never easy.

Like a tree uprooted for replanting, however, we are plucked out of the ground with our roots mostly intact and surrounded by soil. In other words, our memories and relationships go with us to our new assignment. We bring all that we have experienced – the joy, sorrow, laughter and tears – to our new assignment, and then we open ourselves once again to new growth as we open our lives and our hearts to the journey God has set before us. Change is opportunity. Opportunity for new experiences. Opportunity for new challenges. Opportunity for new growth.

Change isn’t easy. But without it, we could never become what God dreams we can be.

Father Ronald Hutchinson is director of priestly vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids. Contact Father Hutchinson at