How Families of Parishes Differ from Clusters

Greater collaboration while keeping parish identity and integrity

On Pentecost 2020, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron announced the new stage of our missionary journey in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Over the next two years, all parishes of the Archdiocese of Detroit will join other parishes in new groupings called “Families of Parishes.” Families of Parishes are groups of parishes, generally three to six, sharing resources to advance the mission. The priests, deacons, and lay staff associated with each parish will be empowered to better share their gifts and talents with the whole Family of Parishes. The proposal of this new model is a response to our current health and economic crises and the shortage of priests to care for parish communities, as well as the need for a better structure to serve our shared mission to Unleash the Gospel in southeast Michigan.

While the move to Families of Parishes has been deemed necessary and appropriate by Archbishop Vigneron, the details have not yet been decided regarding how to make this model work in the best interest of our communities. Over the next months, a group of clergy and lay leaders will help the Archbishop discern and finalize the structure of Families of Parishes. Our goal is for parishes to benefit from greater collaboration while avoiding many pitfalls associated with clustering parishes, which has traditionally been used in the Archdiocese and elsewhere as a response to financial and vocational concerns. The final structure and governance for Families of Parishes will be presented later this year.


In a cluster arrangement, one priest, sometimes with the assistance of an associate pastor or a deacon, is assigned to care for all administrative and ministerial aspects of multiple parishes. Each of those parishes maintains its own staff, parish council, finance council, worship site, Mass schedule, and so on. Overseeing the life of multiple parishes is challenging for individual pastors, who face many demands on their time and energies with little time remaining to care for the souls of their parishioners and for missionary outreach. Parishioners often feel as if they don’t receive the support that they want and need from clergy.


In the proposed model of Family of Parishes, one priest will be responsible for the administration of multiple parishes, with the support of a Parish Finance Officer, a newly created position filled by a lay person or deacon who has experience in business and managing an organization. Importantly, the pastor of a Family of Parishes also will be joined by additional clergy — priests and deacons — who are assigned to the Family of Parishes. And while each parish in a Family of Parishes will remain separate and distinct, it is our hope that the parish councils and finance councils within a Family will work together as a team to advise their pastor. In addition, while the parishes will remain unique, parish staff will, much like the clergy, be consolidated to support the entire Family of Parishes. There is typically no such coordination or collaboration between clustered parishes.


Being largely freed from administrative responsibilities, the additional priests and deacons of a Family of Parishes will be able to focus on missionary outreach as well as sacramental and pastoral care of parishioners. Another benefit from this model involves aging and at-risk clergy, who will no longer face the burden of choosing between retirement or handling all the aspects of running and ministering to their parish communities. They will be able to continue in ministry in ways that protect their health while still making valuable and needed contributions to their communities. All clergy assigned to a Family of Parishes will be able to leverage their charisms and strengths in the work they do, supported by a talented and trained lay staff.


With this shift, we take inspiration from the early Church. From the beginning, Christ knew the mission he gave his disciples would be difficult and that they would face many challenges, so he sent them to preach the Gospel two-by-two (Mk 6:6-7 and Luke 10:1). Like us, the early disciples had to be docile to the Holy Spirit and respond to the challenges they encountered. St. Paul himself was shipwrecked three times (2 Cor 11:25) but wherever he landed, he remained committed to the same mission with which we are entrusted today. Because of St. Paul’s commitment and the commitment of the early apostles, the Gospel was heard across the world.

Like the disciples, we have been asked to unite and go on mission together, enhancing each other’s strengths and working collaboratively to Unleash the Gospel around us. And while the impact of the pandemic may feel like a shipwreck – like St. Paul, this is not what we planned or wanted – we know that God wants us to continue his mission with the same zeal and dedication of the early apostles. His Holy Spirit will guide us every step of the way.