ASK FATHER: How to explain changing parishes without sounding “elitist”

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Wondering if you had any advice on how to explain to family and friends why my wife and I have decided to go to mass on Sunday at another parish the next town over without sounding self righteous or elitist? Basically our territorial parish is quite liberal and we like the reverence and beauty of our new parish. Hard topic to discuss with people happy at the old place.

Thanks for all you do. I have learned so much from this blog.

That’s can be a tough call.  Do you stay at a parish with problems and try to be part of a solution?  Do you cut your losses and go to a better place?

I don’t see why giving an explanation about your preference to go to a different church would be “self-righteous” or “elitist”, provided that you give your sincere reasons for the decision.  If the people with whom you are talking think that desiring beauty is elitist, the problem is theirs, not yours.   You might ask them to go with you and then, over a leisurely brunch (for which you pay) have a discussion about the differences.

When it comes to nourishing our spiritual lives, shouldn’t we want the very best?  If that best cannot be attained in one place, and attempts to improve it or adapt to it aren’t working, then it is reasonable to seek elsewhere when there are alternatives.

This is one of those situations in which the admonishment of 1 Peter 3:13-17 is important:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong.

Have it clear in your minds why you are making the change, so that you can give an explanation which is clear and charitable.

NB: Your territorial parish remains your true parish.  Registration in a parish does not make you a member of that parish.  Registration is helpful when it comes to receiving services and giving support.   Unless there are issues of a personal parish involved (nationality, etc.) your territorial parish remains your official parish.  In these days of easy mobility people will sometimes forget this as they seek alternatives to their insufficient territorial parish.

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22 Responses to ASK FATHER: How to explain changing parishes without sounding “elitist”

  1. capchoirgirl says:

    This might be a silly/stupid question, but what does “territorial parish” mean in terms of actual day to day life? I’m moving in the spring, and I will be right next door (really!) to a parish that I will never join, for myriad reasons. I go to a parish in the next town, for the same reasons as this writer. But what does “territorial parish” really mean, in terms of obligations and such?

  2. BrionyB says:

    I was wondering about the territorial parish thing too. I’m not actually sure which parish I live in, as there are two churches about equal distance from me and I don’t know where the parish boundaries are.

    The church I actually attend regularly is a different one again. I go there partly because of the TLM, partly because I’ve found the parish community so much more friendly and welcoming than elsewhere. Quite a few of the regular congregation are doing the same. I’ve never been asked to register.

  3. Glennonite says:

    —When it comes to nourishing our spiritual lives, shouldn’t we want the very best?—

    If during brunch at a nice place, you follow that question with, “Would you rather we were having brunch at McDonald’s or here?” One is special and possesses gravitas, and the other is….half-assed; less sincere.

  4. THREEHEARTS says:

    just do it please stop worrying about others opinions

  5. APX says:

    If one really must give an explanation, just tell them you’re “not being spiritually fed” at your current location.

  6. Anneliese says:

    I understand exactly how this person feels. I don’t attend the parish that’s within my boundaries and I no longer attend the parish that’s at the border of the boundaries. I attend Mass where the Archbishop presides. It’s more orthodox and reverent and it has multiple mass times and confession times over the weekend. I ran into a friend the other day who attends one of these parishes and he asked if I hated the parishes in the neighborhood so much that I have to go to different parishes. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t want to go to a parish that offered rainbows and bongo drums. I’ve found it easier to avoid getting into the topic of why I don’t attend liberal parishes as I’ve noticed that Catholics who dissent or who have left because of sexual morality issues tend to take offense easy and get huffy when I don’t agree with their views. I wish people wouldn’t take a offense to it. I don’t get offended if a person prefers to attend a liberal parish and I don’t take offense if their view is more liberal than mine so I don’t know why a liberal person can’t extend that courtesy to me.

  7. Ben Kenobi says:

    “I was wondering about the territorial parish thing too. I’m not actually sure which parish I live in, as there are two churches about equal distance from me and I don’t know where the parish boundaries are.”

    They usually appear on the parish website.

    Like the other commentators, I attend with the bishop, where I sing in the choir twice a month. My confessor (due to reasons I don’t want to delve into here), serves in a different city about an hour away. He is a wonderful priest and has been very helpful to me over the years so I stick with him.

    My territorial parish used to be strong but with the priest they’ve had for the last five years, it has really declined. They refused to permit the 40 days to be announced in their bulletin or for us to set up a table as we have done in the past. I decided to leave when father decided that the parish would be using the parishioner’s money to bring Syrian muslims into our small rural community. A yearly amount equal to what we give our seminarian. I feel this is abuse of the parishioners. He also complained about me kneeling through the consecration as is the liturgical norm everywhere else.

    I will probably go back to my territorial parish once he is gone, but for now I serve where I am actually appreciated. Our bishop is very solid and made sure to attend our closing and opening rallies for the 40 days for life.

  8. exsquid says:

    This is one Church law that should be abolished. Territorial Parishes may have been suitable in the Middle Ages but are obsolete today, especially for those trying to escape the abusive liberties taken after Vatican II. We attend at a parish 10 miles from our residence because we understand it is we who actually control our spiritual destiny, not some “cool” clergy at our local parish. It’s a situation where the laity seem to have more sense than the Vatican.

  9. JustaSinner says:

    I was once told by a parish priest that I couldn’t go ‘parish shopping’ for another church because I didn’t like the priest there. I didn’t leave because of him; because of his poor pastorial care…big difference.

  10. Ed S says:

    We are in the same diocese but the parish that we chose to leave finally got to us with it’s layman Liturgical Director who ran things in a heterodox manner. We had four pastors in the time we were members over eight years. We longed for reverence, religious music, rosaries before mass, etc. You know, traditional Catholic demeanor. After making the rounds within a 20 mile radius, we found a traditional parish with a solid young priest who catechises when needed, has trained altar servers, an altar rail and is not afraid to dress in clerical attire.

    When we meet someone who asks why we left the other parish, we simply say that we are more comfortable at our current parish. There is nothing more needed as far as an explanation.

  11. byzantinesteve says:

    I don’t think you really have to worry about how you come across as long as you aren’t complaining about your former parish. You could say something like the following:
    “Some folks prefer more modern, contemporary worship and others prefer more traditional worship. We realized after attending Our Lady Queen of [xyz] that we preferred the traditional worship style there. It was a tough call because we really like all the nice people at Blessed Sacrament. How has your family been doing?”

    If they seem offended or have anything rude to say, you can just tell them, “that’s okay. No parish will be all things to all people so everyone just has to do what’s best for their family.”

    As long as you don’t sound critical or denigrating, you’ll be fine.

  12. Hidden One says:

    Exsquid, one highly underrated (and often unrecognized) advantage of the territorial system is that, no matter what, some pastor somewhere has the responsibility to provide you with pastoral care, whether you actually seek it in his parish or not. Even vagi, folks with no stable residence, have a pastor, and that pastor can NEVER deny them any of the sacraments based on them not being registered in the parish, notwithstanding what some (antinomian?) pastors put in their church bulletins. Having domicile or quasi-domicile in a parish, or simply being physically present in it–especially if one has no domicile anywhere–grants Latin rite Catholics authentic canonical *rights* (and duties) that are too little known by those who have them. Abolishing territorial parishes would be a pastoral disaster.

  13. MrsMacD says:

    It’s a good question because whomever he is talking to should probably also switch to his parish and the way it’s communicated might very well make or break that message. A good book might bridge the gap maybe this book by bishop Schneider; HERE

  14. Josephus Corvus says:

    I actually haven’t seen a map in ages and it can get mighty confusing. In my area, there were four parishes that merged, but ended up with four “worship sites.” Then they peeled off the individual sites one at a time until what used to be Parish A is now the church and Parish B is the school. (Parish C was sold to a funeral home, and D is a worship site for a non-Christian faith – and I’ll leave it at that). So, based on your location, the territorial parish could have changed right out from under you and nobody would have been told.

    Another possible answer for the questioner’s issue is to simply use the same statement that is prevalent during mergers, etc. That is to say that the parish is not the Church – you know, the whole “we are Church” movement. The parish just happens to be the place you go on Sunday. If the relatives would think you are elitist for going to a more traditional parish, they would probably buy into that argument, even if it not all that sound. (Of course, I recently heard a priest say it was heresy to want to go to one Mass vs. another in the same parish because you liked one priest better than the other).

  15. richiedel says:

    If one is truly concerned with what it means to be united in the Body of Christ, one should first be concerned with how we worship God. It is Christ – not being in the same building – who unites us. We are most united in the Body of Christ through sharing in his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and it is how we worship God which disposes us to fruitfully receive Him. If the Eucharistic mystery and Real Presence are downplayed with how Mass is celebrated, people are being cheated out of true unity with each other. Two people worthily receiving the Eucharist in different parts of the world are more united with each other than are two people in the same church building, at least one of whom is not worthily receiving the Eucharist. There may be little more elitist than when some vague, ubiquitous sense of being chummy with each other takes precedence over such matters as the worship due to God and the true unity to be had by worthy reception of the Eucharist.

  16. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    Perhaps one’s obligation to one’s territorial parish might include giving time, treasure, talent, and prayer – at least some of each of these, even if the family chooses to register at a different parish. And then that family would have to split their obligations – some to one, some to the other.

    Do we pray for our parish? For our pastor, our vicars, deacons, and the laity who serve in various other positions? Do we pray for our fellow parishioners? Especially for their salvation, and the salvation of all who visit our church.

    You have to do some volunteer work for your parish(es) – whether great or small. I help to clean the vestibule. Our votive candle stands are set up out there, and I help to make sure there are fresh candles in each cup. Just little things like that. Or maybe you’re the type to do great and important things. The point is, nothing is too little or too unimportant to offer to Jesus.

    I’m not able to give much to my parish collection, but I give reliably every Sunday. That’s an obligation, too.

    And if the territorial parish has a special event that might be an opportunity to show to the parish leadership that there are people interested in supporting and participating in an hour of Eucharistic Adoration, or a Lenten Mission, or an evening Latin Mass, or even a parish picnic or social – to support those activities by . . . showing up!

  17. jflare29 says:

    “…without sounding self righteous or elitist? Basically our territorial parish is quite liberal…”

    Boy! ..And how that one comes up quite often these days, doesn’t it?! I’ve…more or less stood on both sides of that quarrel. I will suggest seeking to find some time when you can have a friendly, heart-to-heart chat about what’s going in on the Church and the parish. Perhaps help others understand how fidelity to the actual rubrics of the Church lead you closer to God than do the, ah, “innovations” brought about in the wake of Vatican II. I expect you’ll hear something about “rigidity” somewhere along the line; the “old ways” are “rigid” regarding how you “must” do this or that just so. I would simply note how the “modern” faith tends to be every bit as rigid via refusing to even consider any “old-fashioned” ways.
    You don’t necessarily need to try persuading someone to join you in changing parish, yet…it’ll be very difficult to avoid taking precisely that appearance. You simply need to help people understand that …the Church’s life in the wake of Vatican II…has posed many serious problems too.

  18. TonyO says:

    So many good comments, and so many ideas to note. Soooo,

    without sounding self righteous or elitist?

    Maybe it would be worthwhile to sound elitist. Never underestimate the power of truth. Try an experiment: sit down and write out a paragraph or so in which you project into your explanation all the high-minded stuff you would want to say if you weren’t worried about it sounding elitist. Then do the same thing, but not about the parish, do it instead as an explanation of what’s so great about your X, where X can be your family, your nationality, your school, your work, or anything else that you love. Then meld the two, borrowing content from the first, and style from the second. Anybody who has a problem with your thinking that your family or your school or your work is “great” has a problem, why should you apologize for thinking the church you attend is great?

    I ran into a friend the other day who attends one of these parishes and he asked if I hated the parishes in the neighborhood so much that I have to go to different parishes. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t want to go to a parish that offered rainbows and bongo drums.

    Tell him bongo drums give you headaches. Or, another alternative: don’t explain anything at all, just say “I like it there” and refuse to be comparative at all. Don’t make insinuations about the lack anywhere else, just keep on saying “I like it there.” Eventually they will wear down.

    Or, put them on the defensive instead of you: ask them things like “do you love the convenience of only having to drive 5 minutes SO MUCH that you would choose it over things like true doctrine, the fullness of Christ’s teaching, reverence and beauty?” Keep in mind that they put you on the defensive by an ASSUMPTION built into the very nature of how they talk about this: they assume that you have an obligation to attend at your local church. Cut that presumption off at the knees (at least, in your own mind), by recalling things like: There is no Church rule that you must attend in your territorial parish “unless things are too bad there”. You don’t have to. Also, your priest has an obligation to say Mass according to the mind and heart of the Church – if he can’t be bothered to attend to that obligation, why should you be forced to accept it rather than going to a church where the priest does pay attention to that obligation. Ultimately: don’t let yourself be put on the defensive about being right. Take the offense.

    (Of course, I recently heard a priest say it was heresy to want to go to one Mass vs. another in the same parish because you liked one priest better than the other).

    Wow, talk about heresy – the priest’s view is not the truth. What a knuckleheaded thing to say. On the other hand, he probably was trying to say something a little less idiotic, like “it is better to go to Mass expecting to be with Jesus, and then you won’t care which priest is saying Mass.” He would still be wrong in saying this, because since you can be with Jesus at either Mass, but since it is better to hear a good sermon than a bad one, it is perfectly reasonable to choose the one over the other.

    Perhaps one’s obligation to one’s territorial parish might include giving time, treasure, talent, and prayer – at least some of each of these, even if the family chooses to register at a different parish. And then that family would have to split their obligations – some to one, some to the other.

    The actual law of the Church is that you contribute to the welfare of the Church, not that you contribute to your territorial parish. You can exercise prudential judgment about where, within the Church, you choose to put your contribution. For many people who feel they must go elsewhere for Mass, they might put most of their contribution (including time and talent) into the parish they spend most of their time in, but still send some money to the territorial parish (at least, for upkeep of its books, which you may need at some point.) But in some cases the local parish is so bad that it justifies not giving them a dime.

  19. Charivari Rob says:

    to Josephus Corvus: Yes, literal maps are seldom seen. In the case of mergers/closures, etc…, though, even when maps are not widely available my experience is that the diocese maintains accessible lists (website, though I’m sure one could phone, as well) that have the roster of suppressed parishes and which existing parish has custody of sacramental records.

    to the original question:

    For those who know you well enough to have an idea of what you think on those subject, little explanation is needed. For those who don’t know you that well, I don’t know that very much explanation is warranted. IF one discusses one’s move from A to B and the reasons for them with others at all, then…

    If it is presented in positive terms – change to B because “we find it works best for our situation”, or “I really like that there is _____ there” – that doesn’t sound elitist.

    If it is presented in negative terms – leaving A because “[something denigrating about A]” – then, yes, that sounds elitist.

  20. bartlep says:

    I live 2 blocks from a “happy clappy” Church. I prefer to drive 10 miles to an orthodox parish where a visiting Norbertine priest celebrates a TLM every Sunday. I feel no commitment to a parish that causes me anger when I attend Mass.

  21. jflare29 says:

    “They usually appear on the parish website. ”
    The map of the parish territory? Parish (or diocesan) websites usually list the address of the church. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a parish website which shows the officially intended bounds.

  22. Bunky says:

    When I was a little girl, my father told me that if I ever had a personal problem with a priest, or one tried to break his vow of chastity with me, the thing to do was to switch parishes, no explanations or goodbyes necessary. I’m thinking that there are a lot of people out there who weren’t told that. My father also told me that yes, an ordinary layperson can switch parishes on a whim because he or she likes the priest or the mass or the church at the other parish better, and it is ok to go to different parishes to try them out. The same goes for different priests to confess to. Rome might have gotten the message about priests who were genuinely abusive a lot sooner if there were ever a priest without an audience.