I recently presented at a virtual Zoom conference called the Parish Life Line. I told the participants that prayer should always begin and end with gratitude. So following my own advice, I want to begin this letter with gratitude. I think we have all learned recently to appreciate little things like a hug, a handshake, or a dinner out with friends. As a young pastor I often felt myself burdened by expectations rather than blessed by abundance. But I have come to realize what incredible staff, volunteers, and parishioners we are all blessed with. You have been patient, understanding, encouraging, and grateful in the midst of difficult times. You don’t know how often a prayer, a word of encouragement, or a thoughtful note came just at the right time to help me through. You are a blessing and I am grateful for you.
When I first started here, people kept asking, “How long will you be here?” I would often respond, “I think a decade would be a good run, and then we’ll see.” I never actually expected to stay 10 years. But now, almost ten years later, I can finally answer the question. Effective Monday, August 3, I will become the pastor of the three parishes that serve Antigo, WI. I know it’s hard to read; it was hard for me to write.
But before I leave, the Diocese has begun a process of reviewing the linkage. Having Oconto, Oconto Falls, and Stiles at once is a very challenging assignment. Comparatively speaking, St. Maximilian Kolbe in Sobieski is a much less demanding assignment. They have put on the table the question of possibly rearranging how these four parishes are linked. Bishop’s intention is to keep all four parishes open but to see if there is a more equitable way to care for them. That reconfiguration will have to be decided first before the final assignments are made, which should all happen before I leave on August 2.
Bishop Ricken intends to name a priest to replace me by July. He is responsible for the care and well- being of all the parishes in his Diocese and he makes the decisions about how to tend the flock in each parish so that all the parishes thrive. I hope that you have thrived under my care. It’s time for me to let someone else tend the flock here.
This is not at all how I anticipated sharing the news with you. Nothing about this spring has been in any sense normal. So I cannot say exactly what ‘saying goodbye’ will look like. But I do know that I owe each of you a hug and a big, “Thank You.” And you’ll be getting it, one way or another. Though I may be leaving, you will not be left without a shepherd. Of course we can always count on the Good Shepherd. I am grateful for you and for the ways you have blessed me. Your next priest, or priests, doesn’t yet realize how lucky he is. And don’t ask him how long he’ll stay, just be grateful for him, as I am grateful for you.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Joel Sember