Fr. Chris: Ongoing Formation
Fr. Chris Clay
Pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Even though he finished seminary and was ordained for the Diocese of Lexington in 2007, Fr. Chris Clay still spends a lot of time at Saint Meinrad. Now the pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg, KY, he returns regularly to take part in programs offered by Saint Meinrad's Institute for Priests and Presbyterates (IPP), a program of ongoing formation for priests.
After graduating from Saint Meinrad, Fr. Chris spent two years as an associate pastor at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, and was made pastor of St. Lawrence in July 2009.
"The adjustment was anxiety raising," he says. "Seminary was a comprehensive formation program to become a priest. But there are aspects of [being a priest] that it can't prepare you for, like leading a parish, managing a staff, planning a mission or coming up with an ongoing plan for your parish. Those things weren't addressed in seminary and, really, you can only get into them once you're in the parish and know what types of things you're going to get into."
While serving as an associate pastor, he attended the IPP's "Settling into Priesthood" workshop and both parts of the two-year "Gearing Up to be a Pastor" workshop. He found both beneficial as he transitioned from seminary into his first assignment as a priest. Just three months into his assignment as pastor at St. Lawrence, Fr. Chris attended the first part of the "New Pastors" workshop.
"It came at a perfect time to get way," he says. "First of all, to have some courses that would be a benefit in that new position as a pastor and, secondly, to have some time for fellowship with other priests-to spend time with them and hear how they were doing. I also learned how to take care of myself-how to live that balanced life. It's always the temptation, starting out as a new pastor, to go full-bore and just burn out."
Fr. Chris says the IPP offered him practical advice, not just on his ministry, but on everyday things like exercise, nutrition and preparing healthy meals. "All of these things have helped me care for myself so that I can be more present and more giving in serving the people of God here in St. Lawrence."
Fr. Chris says his first assignment as a pastor, in many ways, has been ideal. He serves a small community of about 300 families, celebrating one Spanish and two English Masses each week. The community is rural, but still close to the larger cities of Louisville, Frankfort and Lexington.
Yet St. Lawrence, like most parishes, has its challenges. Fr. Chris is currently working on a five-year plan for the parish that will help to solidify its vision and goals. "This was something that came to mind as necessary even before going to the IPP," says Fr. Chris. "But the IPP made it more concrete in my mind. We were looking to renovate the old church building. Fr. Ron Knott, in the last IPP workshop I attended, talked about parish revitalization and planning ahead and growing your parish. I've been able to use some of the exercises he recommended in the workshop."
Fr. Chris also learned about his management style through the IPP. A series of surveys and tests offered insight into management style and motivating factors. "It was helpful to see how I work in leading others and what some of my strengths and weaknesses are. What are the ways I can lean on my staff-especially the things they do well, that I might not do as well. It taught me how to be a good manager. That's something that really takes time to grow into as a pastor of a parish."
One of the highlights for Fr. Chris is coming back to Saint Meinrad and sharing his experiences with others. "It's a real gift to be able to see brother priests who I studied with at Saint Meinrad," he says. "To hear how they're doing and hear their stories and struggles...to have time for fellowship and continue the relationships that began during my five years studying in seminary."
The IPP also encourages ongoing relationships with fellow priests and the bishop within the diocese through its intentional presbyterate programs. "I think it's made me more conscious of that need to nurture relationships with my brother priests and celebrate those times that we do come together," says Fr. Chris.
"IPP is giving me the tools to be a better spiritual leader for the parish. It really aids the priest in taking serious the continual formation in their lives. Without IPP, I'm not sure I would be as effective a pastor as I am now."