During a Mass earlier this month, Rev. John Williamson announced that he will take over the reins at parish.
Williamson had been serving as temporary administrator at the Elkridge church since March 9 when the previous pastor, parish in Columbia.
In addition to leading St. Augustine, Williamson is pastor of in Halethorpe and will continue to pastor that parish.
“I will need support and prayers while I serve both parishes,” Williamson said to the Elkridge congregation.
To address immediate needs, Williamson eliminated one Mass from the St. Augustine weekend schedule and several from Ascension's weekend schedule during July and August. After Labor Day, the regular schedule will resume. He said it's hard to find priests to cover all the Masses during the regular months, but it's even harder in the summer.
Williamson's appointment realizes parishioners' fears that their new priest would have to take care of two parishes. During a , many members of St. Augustine said they were concerned about having a pastor who was overextended.
Msgr. Lloyd Aiken and the Rev. Chris Moore, representatives of the archdiocese priest personnel board, said many criteria are taken into account when a pastor is chosen, but the priest shortage probably led the archbishop to choose one pastor to lead two parishes.
Across the country, there is a priest shortage, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Fewer men are choosing to become priests in a time when many current priests are getting to be retirement age. According to the USCCB, scandals in recent years have been a factor in the declining numbers of priests and would-be priests.
While parishioners were concerned about his capacity to serve the dual role, Williamson does fit some of the personality traits they outlined during that March 31 meeting, such as "he is devoted to Mary," "he makes the Gospels come alive," and "he enjoys helping and directing children in the faith."
Williamson said he is taking on the challenge of leading two parishes and wants to help both communities to learn how to work together to serve Catholics in the area better.
“I think those challenges will be met not only at St. Augustine and Ascension but across the archdiocese as a whole as this becomes the norm in most parishes,” Williamson said of dual pastoring.
He said he hopes people will get a broader understanding of a parish's part in the larger membership of the church.
At the same time, Williamson acknowledged that St. Augustine's own membership is growing.
“St. Augustine has great assets in a committed staff, a large active school, religious education program and youth ministry program, all of which are important,” he said.
Because of its appeal, the church will need facilities to accommodate the growing parish, he said, to continue and enrich its many ministries and activities.