The future of Holy Trinity Parish's buildings in Webster County was one of the hot topics for discussion Sunday afternoon, but it was far from the only issue.
How to increase participation of 19 to 40-year-olds in stewardship and development is the most important challenge facing local Catholics, according to a vote by parishioners at the Parish Convocation held Sunday at St. Edmond school.
This meeting was an important step in creating a long-range plan for the parish, said Bernard DuMond, vice president of the Institute of School and Parish Development.
DuMond worked with the parish during its last planning process in 2008, and has been helping with the current planning process since October, he said.
Parishioners were presented with 38 challenges in seven different categories, including education and formation, stewardship and development, facilities, and liturgy and worship. They split into small groups, each of which would discuss specifically how to meet challenges in half the categories. They all voted individually, as well, on which 19 of the 38 challenges they thought deserved the highest priority.
After increasing participation of young people, the second highest priority was what can be done with the current facilities. Next highest was how to get children and parents to Sunday Mass every weekend, followed by challenges related to a need for a single parish church site.
The long-range plan still calls for one large parish site located near St. Edmond. This is largely due to demographics and the decreasing number of priests, said Monsignor Kevin McCoy.
"Part of the issue six years ago was we went from four priests down to three," McCoy said. "The bishop has already told us there will be the day we go from three to two."
With only three priests to serve the parish, which covers all of Webster County, the number of church sites has been reduced to five, he said, and will eventually be reduced to the one site.
The whole Diocese of Sioux City has 60 priests to cover 24 counties, and probably 25 of them are 60 years old or older, McCoy said.
Of the parish's challenges, DuMond said, "This is a microcosm of the diocese."
"A parish needs to listen to its parishioners, not just do things because one or two people think it needs to be done," DuMond said. "This process gives the staff and the priest some input and feedback on making decisions."
Some parishioners expressed concerns about churches closing.
In answer to the question, "What do we do with our current facilities?" they said the answer was to keep using them.
"I don't' have a problem with one site. The problem is destroying what we have, and building something brand new," said Dorothy Telschaw.
Telschaw said she attended Holy Rosary church until it was closed down.
"We didn't have any say in it," she said. "They just expected us to assimilate into this new church. Now they're talking about closing another church, another facility, and I still don't feel completely comfortable at the new one. How do they expect people to be happy with that?"
Chris Tieman wondered how all the wedding, funerals and other events could be scheduled if the parish only has one building. She has attended Corpus Christi for years, and worries about leaving it.
"As I look at the church I go to every Sunday, I got married there, I had my first communion there, my confirmation," she said. "It's hard to move beyond that.
"We have structures that we've already closed in our parish. And families built those," Tieman added. "When I look at the church in Duncombe, think about all the families who built that, and in the end it was just torn down. ... It's just gone, and I don't know how you move on from things like that."
St. Joseph Church in Duncombe ceased services in 2008, and was torn down in early 2011.
Ed O'Leary has been attending church in this area for 77 years. He said it's hard to think of closing churches, but people have to be realistic.
"Look at the population of the Sioux City Diocese. That will give you the answer of why you need a single (site)," he said. "You have to see the inevitability of it. It's not easy."
"I don't have an answer, just questions I guess," Tieman said.
None of the existing churches are large enough to serve as the single site, McCoy said. They have other issues too, such as handicap accessibility.
While a single site is an eventual reality, McCoy said it's far too early to talk about what might be done with the existing sites.
"What we're doing is we're saying, let's not just be subject to diocesan planning, but let's do some planning for ourselves right here and now," McCoy said, "so that we have some sense of self-determination here as a parish, which I think is important. That lets these people be heard."