The Deacon's Bench

At one time it would have been unthinkable. But now it’s a reality for more and more priests: they are serving as pastors for two parishes. In Los Angeles, it’s known as “twinning,” and the local paper, The Tidings, takes a look at how it works:

Though his mode of transportation is a car instead of a horse, you might think of Father Edward Dover as a modern day circuit rider as he travels the four-mile round trip between his two parishes in the Verdugo foothills five to six days a week.

Formally installed Sept. 9 as pastor of both St. James the Less in La Crescenta and Holy Redeemer in Montrose, Father Dover is one of nine priests who are pastors of twinned/clustered parishes in the archdiocese.

Last spring, the 49-year-old bearded, Birkenstock sandal-shod former pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas in Monterey Park and St. Anthony of Padua in Gardena was asked by San Fernando Region Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson if he would consider pastoring both St. James, where he had been administrator for a year, and Holy Redeemer, whose pastor Msgr. Jack Foley was retiring.

Father Dover said he would take it under prayerful advisement which included consulting with Msgr. Tim Dyer, pastor of twinned L.A. parishes Nativity and St. Columbkille.

“His two comments to me were, ‘It’s been the best ten years of my life as a priest’ and ‘If you do this, you’ll be amazed at what God’s people can do’,” said Father Dover. “When I heard him say that, I relaxed a bit. If a husband and wife can take care of three kids, I can take care of two parishes.”

While the parent analogy works in theory, the logistics of pastoring two parishes with a combined estimated count of 2,000 families (St. James with 800 households, Holy Redeemer with 1,200) is an ongoing work in progress that Father Dover says he’s still figuring out.

When the two parishes were advised that they would be embarking on the twinning model — which had been a top choice among the parishioners in a previous archdiocesan survey listing options such as parish clustering, installation of a parish life director or closure — Father Dover gathered representatives from both parish councils, advisory boards, finance councils and the two business managers to discuss transitional operations.

As bi-locating for Masses is a real-time impossibility, Father Dover had to pare down the Mass schedule. Each parish had to sacrifice its noon Mass. The interim Mass schedule, with St. James holding Sunday services at 9 and 11:30 a.m. and Holy Redeemer offering Mass at 8 and 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., is possible with the help of St. James’ priest in residence, Father Camillo Bonsuuri from Ghana, and Holy Redeemer’s pastor emeritus, Msgr. Foley.

For Catechetical Sunday last week, Father Dover traveled between parishes for back-to-back Sunday services at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Since there was no time to change out of his vestments before making the 7-10 minute drive, he drove up the hill from Holy Redeemer to his next service at St. James the Less wearing chasuble, stole and alb.

Most Sundays, Father Dover plans to celebrate both morning Masses at one parish, while Fathers Foley and Bonsuuri celebrate morning Masses at the other parish. Ministerial assignment schedules will be published in the parish bulletins.

Father Dover says traveling a mere two miles between parishes “doesn’t really faze me.” A native of Lompoc, he remembers driving 27 miles to Santa Maria or 56 miles to Santa Barbara to attend Sunday evening Mass when he missed the local morning Mass. Visiting family in eastern Oregon, he has substituted for a priest who drives 300 miles between Saturday and Sunday at three different churches.

“In a sense, L.A. is just now starting to experience what a lot of the rest of the country already lives. But our distances are so much easier,” declared Father Dover, adding with a chuckle, “I’m crazy enough to be excited by this.” He thanks God for his PDA, which “tells me where I’m supposed to be day by day and moment by moment.”

Usually, his day starts with prayer in the St. James rectory chapel at 6 a.m. followed by the celebration of morning Mass at 7:30 or 8 a.m., depending on which parish he plans to spend the morning. He heads to the gym most afternoons for workouts to keep his energy up for parish evening meetings several times a week.

“I have a general rule,” Father Dover tells staff and parishioners. “‘If you want me to make a decision, ask me before 8:30 p.m. because my brain begins to shut down. I love you all, but I’m leaving at 9 p.m.'”

There’s more about his insane schedule at the link, and how he struggles with a chronic problem confronting most of us in ministry: the difficulty of saying “no.”

Photo: Father Dover, by Paula Doyle, The Tidings

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