Catholic Vancouver Jan. 12, 2018

What to expect when you're expecting the archbishop

By Agnieszka Ruck

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, blesses a woman during his visit to Corpus Christi Parish in October. He plans to visit all 77 parishes in his jurisdiction. (Photos by Angelo Siglos / Special to The B.C. Catholic)

VANCOUVER—So, Archbishop J. Michael Miller is visiting your parish. While the amounts of paperwork and preparation might seem daunting, this three-day pastoral stopover can encourage and revitalize a church community.

“It’s a great thing for parishes to look forward to,” said Father Bruce-John Hamilton, the pastor of Corpus Christi Parish and head of the Vancouver East Deanery.

Last year, Archbishop Miller announced he would personally visit all 77 parishes in his diocese, a project likely to take several years. His inaugural visit was to Corpus Christi Parish in October.

“My first visit, which was to Corpus Christi Parish, overwhelmed me by the prayerfulness, desire to serve others, and enthusiasm of the parishioners,” he told 900 people at the Archbishop’s Dinner last fall.

Father Hamilton agreed, saying parishioners felt honoured and excited to sit down with their archbishop face to face and talk about their ministries.

“It was very constructive and a very good opportunity for them to be with him in a much more closed setting, and for him to see what was happening on the ground.”

Archbishop Miller “is a good listener. He’s very affable and he asked questions.”

Archbishop Miller greets members of Corpus Christi Parish during his visit in October.

During the four-day visit, the archbishop visited the elementary school staff and students, held meetings with various members of parish councils and ministries, toured the grounds, and celebrated Sunday Mass with the community.

At each meeting, he viewed a binder that listed every active ministry and parishioner, along with financial and other details about the parish.

“It gives the archbishop an on-the-ground and in-the-field awareness of what is going on, on the parish level, the good things that are happening and the honest, real, and specific challenges that a parish faces,” said Father Hamilton.

Several years ago, the pastor had insisted the parish create a parish profile, a large binder with information ranging from the names of the Knights of Columbus to what plumber to call. That research came in very handy when preparing the paperwork for Archbishop Miller prior to his parish visit.

“I would highly recommend this,” he said.

The result of the parish visit? Praise and some helpful constructive criticism, the pastor said. Though he hasn’t yet received an official report, he already has ideas about what to do next to improve his parish.

“We shouldn’t wait for a crisis to deal with anything. It’s like any relationship, a pastor to his people, or a bishop to his priests, or a married couple. If you wait until a crisis to talk about things, you’ve waited too long.”

Archbishop Miller prays next to Father Bruce-John Hamilton at Mass.

Barbara Dowding, vice chancellor and Archbishop Miller’s notary in these meetings, said that while a visit requires a lot of paperwork, it’s a great opportunity.

“He’ll say ‘What is your biggest challenge?’ Or ‘What makes you most proud about your parish?’ It’s a really good two-way conversation. He is so interested in everything that it draws people to speak.”

During the visit, parish lectors, music ministry leaders, extraordinary ministers, youth and young adult ministry leaders, members of RCIA, PREP, CWL, Knights of Columbus, and Legion of Mary can all anticipate a meeting with their shepherd.

“I know the archbishop’s idea is to see or notice or celebrate best practices. If he sees something that’s going really well, he can share them with other people. He’s not looking for things to criticize, he’s looking for things to celebrate,” said Dowding.

“For people who are expecting a visit, it will be like having company. You know what it’s like when you’re having someone come. It’s a good excuse to spiffy up. It’s an exciting time.”

She said Archbishop Miller is determined to visit every parish in his jurisdiction. His next visits are to St. Matthew's Parish Jan. 18-21 and Holy Trinity Parish Jan. 25-28. More information is available here.

Father Hamilton’s Advice:

Be ready. This requires a fair bit of work but it pays off once the archbishop is on site. 

Don’t be worried. It’s really a pastoral visit. If the archbishop finds things that need to be fixed or addressed, it’s a good thing. We can never be right 100 per cent of the time. We can always improve. 

Don’t hide anything. The archbishop needs to hear things that are positive and the challenges. Don’t just serve him the cream of the parish. Share the bad things as well; this will help him get an honest view of the parish and the archdiocese. He will give his insights and ideas.