Just as national churches catering to distinct immigrant groups defined early Catholicism and suburban parishes marked much of the 20th century, the shared parish is destined to define Catholic life in our time, writes Brett Hoover in the American Catholic Studies Newsletter (Fall).
Shared parishes are defined as churches that minister to two or more cultural/ethnic groups and have especially risen to prominence since the late 1990s with increasing Hispanic immigration. A 2008 study of five geographically distributed dioceses found that 45 percent held masses in two languages. In studying diocesan websites in 2009, Hoover found that 71 percent of parishes in the diocese of Miami, 34 percent in the diocese of Knoxville, 16 percent in the diocese of Port Jefferson in the Midwest, 23 percent in the diocese of Baker in Oregon, and 52 percent of the parishes in the Oakland, Calif., diocese held mass in more than one language.
The move to shared parishes happened without diocesan planning, but rather is the result of ad hoc arrangements and what Hoover calls “intercultural negotiations.”The “shared” dimensions of these parishes range from just holding masses in two languages to more structural changes that include different educational programs and other ministry programs. It is often the religious education programs where there is the most conflict and thus more negotiation needed, according to Hoover.
The shared parish he studied had Hispanic and Anglo educational tracks with very different dynamics, challenges and goals. The Hispanic program was concerned with preventing an exodus of young people to evangelical churches and meeting immigrant needs, while the Anglo program addressed a milieu that included low birth rates, the out-migration of people of marriage age and the need for school age programs for parents. Often the founding community of the parish views the newcomers in a shared parish as interlopers and sees the church as really belonging to them—an attitude that is heightened when the immigrants have illegal status.
Hoover found that those over 40 with memories of “pre-1990 cultural hegemony” have such a proprietary attitude. He concludes that with limited financial resources and staffing, most dioceses cannot start separate parishes to minister to immigrant groups and that such pluralism will mark American parish life for the foreseeable future.
(American Catholic Studies Newsletter, Cushwa Center, 407 Geddes Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556)