Dear Sisters and Brothers –
As the Pastors of St. Agnes and St. Ignatius Parishes, we welcome and embrace what our Provincial, Fr. Scott Santarosa, S.J., is asking of us. This represents a commitment by the Society of Jesus to maintaining our two distinct, vibrant, and unique parishes in San Francisco while also taking into account the realities that face the contemporary Church. (See our Provincial's letter on page 3 of this bulletin.) We are enthusiastic about the possibilities that lie ahead, believing that each parish has gifts and strengths to share with the other and believing that together we will have more to offer our parishioners and the local Church of San Francisco.
More than a year ago, the two of us, with Maureen Beckman and Gary Price, went through an exercise that invited us to look at these strengths and unique gifts of our respective parishes. What was illuminating to us was the depth and breadth of what we have in common: engaging liturgy with good music and relevant preaching; a high priority on social justice; collaborative staffing models; a key location (the Haight and adjacent to USF); and much more. These are fundamental values put into action. And, of course, all of it is grounded in our shared heritage of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which animate and give shape and character to all that we do. This is why we have begun to describe this process with the catchphrase, “two parishes, one mission.”
To be clear, we are not merging our parishes. Rather, the task before us is to discern – that is, to actively seek God’s will – what pastoral and administrative structure might best serve our two parishes in our one mission, given the realities that our Provincial describes in his letter.
The immediate task before us is to assemble a team of people from both parishes who will pray and wonder and imagine together. The task of this eventual team will be to ask the question, “What does God want us to do?”
As Jesuit parishes, we are blessed that our founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, believed as we do, that God has hopes and dreams, desires and thoughts about the world and those who inhabit it. Ignatius believed that those desires can be discovered through the prayer and spiritual conversation among people of good will and sincere hearts.
Eventually, the team will ask the questions about what pastoral and administrative staffing will look like, and which programs we will share and which will remain unique to each place, in order to be more broadly and deeply effective.
Each parish will choose five discerners to work with the two of us. With members of our respective staffs, we came up with qualities these team members should possess.
Those who will be discerning:
• believe God is active in the process
• possess internal freedom for God’s will and model it in their behavior
• are prayerful and are perceived by other parishioners this way
• possess good listening skills and believe that the Holy Spirit will speak through the deepest desires of the group
• see and are positive about the value in and the potential of collaboration between the two parishes
• allow the big picture to guide them
• are active and respected members of their particular parishes
• have some experience integrating organizations, programs or teams
• are trustworthy and have sufficient time to commit
Each of us has begun to have conversations in his own parish, consulting staff and members of parish leadership about the qualities above and receiving feedback based on them. Each of us hopes to have our team members chosen in order for the group to begin its work toward the end of summer.
The first order of business for the discerners from our two parishes will be to get to know one another, critical to establish the trust necessary for discernment. As Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., the General Superior of the Society, said in his recent letter, On Discernment in Common,
"[It] requires the existence of what Ignatius Loyola calls the “union of hearts and minds” in the group that is discerning, because the purpose of the process is to make an election freely according to the will of God. This union of hearts and minds is born of the shared sense of purpose possessed by all who form part of the group since what is at stake in the discernment directly affects all and each one. Thus, good mutual knowledge of each other is needed, a mutual knowledge that gives birth to trust in each other and motivates the active participation of each one."
We haven’t established the details of the rest of the process because the way forward is not yet clear. However, we know that God will guide us, just as God has for the past 24 years.
If you have any questions, either about Fr. Scott’s letter or ours, please let us know. As things unfold, we will keep you closely informed. In the meantime, we commend this entire process to your prayers, especially that we receive the gift that God seeks to give us and that, together, we make it our own.
God bless you and Sts. Agnes and Ignatius Parishes.
Raymond Allender, S.J.
Gregory Bonfiglio, S.J.