WEST LONG BRANCH: Two local churches will be merged by the Diocese of Trenton by the middle of 2018.
St. Jerome's Catholic Church at 254 Wall St., West Long Branch and St. Mary's of the Assumption at 46 Richmond Ave., Deal will be merged no later than July 1, 2018 in an effort to save costs and help the parishes become stronger. These are two of 17 parishes in the state will be merged to create 8 new parishes, reducing the total number of parishes to 98 from 107 by 2020. Fifteen additional churches will be linked to neighboring ones, sharing resources and one pastor.
"Change and adaptation has always been necessary for our faith not only to remain strong but also, and more importantly, for our faith to grow stronger," Bishop David O'Connell said in a pastoral letter. "I believe that it is not so much a case of growing smaller or 'becoming less' as a church, a diocese or a parish; I believe it is a case of 'doing more with less.' The challenge before us all is to figure out 'how.'"
Diocese spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett clarified that none of the churches in the merger or linkages will be closed.
"Yes, there are financial and personnel concerns, but it's more about strengthening the parishes can accomplish their mission," Bennett said. "We don't want the churches to just survive, we want them to thrive.
Merged parishes will share one pastor, staff, councils, organizations, ministries, programs, finances, assets and liabilities.
There are also some local churches that will be linked, meaning they will share one pastor and but retain their own pastoral and finance councils. However, they will be encouraged to share as much as possible.
St. Dorothea's Roman Catholic Church at 240 Broad St., Eatontown and Church of the Precious Blood at 72 Riverdale Ave., Monmouth Beach will adopt the linkage model no later than July 1, 2019.
The aforementioned churches will also collaborate with Christ The King Church and St. Michael's Church, both in Long Branch. These two churches will retain their own pastors but will share services with the others churches in the cohort.
"An Implementation Commission will be established to guide and encourage parishes in the process of putting my decisions in place and monitoring their progress," Bishop O'Connell said.