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Holy Spirit pastor scolds parish members, discourages vocations

Prayers for peace at Holy Spirit parish in Highland
Prayers for peace at Holy Spirit parish in Highland

The controversial speech below was recently given by Pastor Wayne Ureel before Mass at Holy Spirit Catholic Parish in Highland, Michigan.

During the speech, Father Ureel scolded parishioners for what he sees as fragments in the congregation, and stated: "Being a pastor is like being a parent. It's not a popularity contest. As a parent, there are times when you have to make decisions that are not agreeable to the children."

He also asked parishioners "Why would anyone in their right mind knowingly suggest, much less encourage, others to go into the ministry?"

Some applauded at the end of his speech, while others walked out.

The scolding followed several months of conflict and turmoil in the parish. This conflict continues today, though many long time parish members have left the parish.

One of the issues that has caused division was the pastor's decision to no longer allow a homeschool group to meet in the parish, even though Canon law supports homeschooling, and homeschoolers score higher than 88 percent of the population in core subjects.

Rev. Wayne Ureel's Speech to Holy Spirit Parishioners
Here is the text of the speech as taken from a recorded version:
Good evening. Just like at home, as a parish family we need from time to time to do some housekeeping. The events from the past few weeks prompted, uh, one of those, uh, times...I want to speak to the situation last weekend and Mother's Day.

To our guests and visitors, you probably didn't pick a very good weekend to be here. I'm sorry for that, and I hope that as you leave today, you still have a favorable impression of our parish.

Our parish is fragmented. Terribly fragmented. It didn't take very long after my arrival last August to realize that. In the past, I was pastor of multiple parishes at different locations. Here, I find that I am still the pastor of multiple parishes, this time under the same roof.

As a parish, we are terribly fragmented. This is evidenced in a couple different ways. For instance, we have two men's groups. Earlier this year, I turned down a request to establish a second women's group, because the younger women did not feel welcome at the women's club. The reasoning for turning down the request was that it would only add fragmentation to that which has already been fragmented.

Since my arrival, there have been several challenges to my authority. But I've laid low, I've patiently endured, and I've watched. As the new kid on the block, there was much to learn, much I have observed. The last couple of months have been the most interesting, and the past couple of weeks especially so.

Much has been said by many people about how they think things should run. Now it's my turn to say a few things.

I've been ordained for 24 years. I've been assigned as pastor 19 of those 24 years. I learned parish administration from two priests who were masters at it: my pastor from the church where I grew up, and the first pastor with whom I worked after I was ordained. I also learned from another pastor in another parish how not to do it.

In 1995, I was pulled early from my second assignment as associate pastor and subsequently ordained the pastor. At the time, I was the youngest person in the archdiocese to assume such responsibilities. Since then, others who were younger were named to similar responsibilities.

I was, and I still am, the youngest founding pastor in this archdiocese. During that time, I was also a vicar for eight years. Seven years ago, I acquired a parish, or a pair of churches, that were previously clustered, although they never accepted the fact that they were clustered. At that time, I had three active construction sites going, one in each location.

My point? They didn't send a rookie here.

Being a pastor is like being a parent. It's not a popularity contest. As a parent, there are times when you have to make decisions that are not agreeable to the children. And you make those decisions anyway, against their disapproval. Because as a parent, you see things that the children don't.

The same goes with being a pastor. As pastor, I made some decisions. It's my job. And with an eye toward the future, I call it as best as I can. Ordinarily, I am closer to the mark than not.

As of late, there are those who have taken exception to some of my decisions. Some have come to me expressing their view about things I have done, expecting that I would see things as they see them, that an agreement would change my mind and go along with their preferences, whatever that preference may be.

It doesn't work that way. You see, discussion takes place BEFORE the decision was made. What occurs after the decision is made is called implementation. If we continue to discuss things, as some prefer, nothing would ever get done.

I want to remind you that the church is not a democracy. It is an autocracy, and a benevolent one at that. The structure of the church is based upon that of the Roman Army. The person in charge is the pastor, and the last time I checked I had the key, and I have the paperwork to prove it.

The problem is that we have too many Sargents that are running around thinking and acting like they are full bird colonels. There have been people who have taken authority that is not theirs to have, who have self-determined that they are the pastors of their own little churches, thereby creating parishes within parishes. That's not how it works either. We are one church. We are one parish. We are not a multiplicity of little churches, little parishes under one roof.

The supposed full birds are adult volunteers. To use the analogy of the military structure further, it is time for these supposed full birds to step back to their rightful position as adult volunteers...For those who don't will be assisted in doing so.

There is among us a false sense of ownership, false sense of attachment. There is also among us a false sense of entitlement that has to change.

I also remind you that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for the gifts of others. The gifts of leadership, administration as St. Paul calls it, at whatever level it is given, is given for no other purposes than to serve. The gifts of the spirit are given for others.

Adult volunteers have no right to cancel parish programs, as we all experienced last week. An authority that was not theirs to take.

Regarding the homeschool group, which is not a parish organization, there are circumstances to which I am not going to agree to speak that color the situation significantly, which led me to the decisions that were made.

Regarding youth programming: a classic case scenerio regarding the fragmented state of our parish. There are six youth organizations in this parish. They run pretty much independent of each other. This is not a sign of a healthy organization.

We have a very capable youth minister here. She is a certified youth minister; she is well qualified. The reason I know this is that my exit requirement and Master's thesis at seminary was entitled “Parish Level Youth Ministry.” When it comes to the kids, I kind of sort of know what I'm talking about. The youth minister has my full support.

Given the recent events, the staff and I have begun to look at how youth programming is to take shape in the fall. There is a lot of youth activity here, which is good, but there has been very little youth ministry being done during the process, which is not so good. In the future, the emphasis will be not so much on youth activity as it is on youth ministry. We can, and we will, do better.

To the young people of this parish, I am here to tell you I'm sorry. Church fights are ugly. Church fights are nasty. If you haven't already figured it out, some of the meanest people you'll ever meet on earth are church people. Unfortunately, it's true. It's a sad commentary. Which is why many as an adult don't come to church.

So for our young people that have been drawn into the conflict, caught into the middle of an adult fight, you shouldn't have been. I'm sorry that that happened, that you got dragged into this.

Given the events of the past couple of weeks, I wanted at this time to stop and think about something: vocations to the priesthood. Do you now understand why clergy, myself included, are less than enthusiastic about promoting priestly vocations?

Going through the meat grinders these past two weeks, as every priest goes through on a semi-regular basis throughout his ordained ministry, is it any wonder why? Why would anyone in their right mind knowingly suggest, much less encourage, others to go into the ministry? Why would you, as a parent or grandparent, knowingly send their son or grandson to into such a highly charged or a highly negative atmosphere?

People who want to know why we have the shortage of vocations that we have need to look no further than ourselves. If you want to see a change in the state of priests, we need to change ourselves. That's my vocation pitch for the year.

Situations such as what we've gone through bring out the best and the worst in people. True colors are unmistakably revealed. In the midst of this turmoil, I have received great confirmation from many of you. And I can match quite literally letter of complaint to letter of compliment, email of complaint to email of compliment, phone call to phone call, one to another, the positive against the negative.

The spoken words of kindness and confirmation in these difficult times is what has tipped the scales and kept me focused on the task at hand. And though the voices of negativity have been loud, so too have the choices of positivity. Thank you to all that have been a support in this time of turmoil. It means more than you'll ever know.

Now, business is business and prayer is prayer. There are times such as today when it is best to separate the two. That is why I am speaking to you now, rather than during the announcements at the end of Mass..this will help us all to focus our thoughts on what is correct.

If you are on board, you are welcome to stay. If you are not, well, nobody's forcing you to stay.

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