“That's why we packed up”

Volunteers organize the community work themselves © Caroline Seidel

The Catholic parish "Zur Heiligen Familie" organizes itself without the support of full-time staff such as a priest or a parish worker. This makes it a model parish in the Essen diocese.

Interviewer: You are 27 years old and have been actively involved for a long time in the Catholic parish "Zur Heiligen Familie" in Essen on Margarethenhohe. What do you do, what are you responsible for??

Thomas Wichelhaus (active member of the parish "Zur Heiligen Familie" in Essen): I have been an altar boy for many years and was head altar boy for a long time. I recently relinquished that post. Apart from that, I am a member of the board of the support association and very active in the parish, so I try to help where I can.

Interviewer: A parish that organizes itself. What exactly does it mean?

Wichelhaus: This means that we no longer have a priest or a full-time staff member, no sexton, no janitor, in fact virtually nothing at all. In principle, we have to do everything that comes up ourselves and try to keep it going somehow.

Interviewer: But that was not always the case, was it??

Wichelhaus: No, of course not. We were a separate parish many years ago and then at some point we had only one parish assistant. Unfortunately, that died a few years ago. So we were alone and had to see how to proceed.

Interviewer: How have you managed in the meantime? How do you approach these tasks?

Wichelhaus: We have always been a very active parish and were raised to be very active by our main ministers at the time. At that time we slipped into it, I say. We were faced with this task at some point and had no other option but to do it. That is why we have tackled it. After a few years we got the proposal from the diocese to become a really self-governing parish.

Then we worked that out over a longer process. Now we are working in this model and everyone is going along with it. Not everyone in the same way, of course – not everyone has the same amount of time. But it is very impressive to see how the whole thing has brought us a bit closer once again. Of course, we had a lot of active people in the past: honor guard, church choir, altar servers. Now this has led to the groups all moving closer together and really talking to each other.

Interviewer: Baptism, wedding, funeral – what do you do when a priest is needed??

Wichelhaus: Of course, we have a service on Sunday, for which a priest from our parish, of which we are a part, comes and visits us. We have a priest who supports us in the preparation of communion children. Of course, priests from other parishes visit us when there is a wedding, a baptism, or a funeral.

Interviewer: The parish has now become a model project in the diocese. Why is that so? And for whom could you also be a role model??

Wichelhaus: I don't know exactly the motives of the diocese. Because of the way our Catholic Church is developing, it will soon be the case in many other parishes that lay people will have to do a lot more themselves because there is simply a lack of full-time staff. Perhaps our experiences can help other parishes to set up something similar themselves at some point.

Interviewer: Are there parishes that have come forward and asked, say, how do you actually do this – we may be planning this as well?

Wichelhaus: As far as I know, no. I think you can't really plan it either, but as long as you have a priest or a parish priest with you in the parish, you're also very happy. There is still no one who has signed up now.

I think everyone has to find their own way first. That's a very individual thing: How a parish is set up, what the environment is like, and what tasks need to be done in the parish.

The interview was conducted by Carsten Dopp.

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