At 6:02 am this past Monday morning, I received an email from the bishop’s office announcing, “With great joy we announce that His Holiness, Pope Francis, has appointed Most Reverend Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida! Bishop Parkes succeeds the retiring Bishop Robert N. Lynch, who has served as Bishop of St. Petersburg since his installation in 1996.”
Already on that same day people have called and asked, “What is the new Bishop like?” Answer: I don’t know, I have never had the privilege of meeting him. I can tell you that he is 6’8” tall – the tallest bishop in the United States! A former banker, a pastor in the Orlando Diocese, FSU graduate, canon lawyer… and did I mention he is very tall? I believe he is 54 years old (I can’t believe I am older than my bishop! Yikes!).
People have also asked, “What will this mean for the Diocese?” Specifically, I have no idea, but know this – he is not new to the episcopal leadership of a diocese or even a Florida diocese at that. I think that bodes very well for the Diocese. I am sure there will be a period when, like any new leader, he scouts out the landscape of the Diocese, meets his pastoral center staff, comes up to speed on the projects and issues, begins to meet his priests, and the parish council leaders. New Presidents are measured by the first 100 days in office, and I suspect bishops are measured on a scale of years of pastoral leadership. So, what will this mean for the Diocese? Ask me a year from now – I may not have a better answer, but I suspect we will begin to see his style of pastoral leadership emerge.
Here is what I can tell you about these changes – I am a hopeful and optimistic person about such things. Last century, I was a member in the pews of a wonderful little parish in the foothills of the eastern ridges of the Blue Ridge mountains. About a year after I began to worship there, the pastor Fr. Guy was leaving. People were not happy – “How could they do this? What will happen to us?” What happened was Fr. Scott arrived. And you know what – he was just the thing our parish needed.
The area was beginning to change as we became less a country county and more a far suburb of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. As the area dynamically grew, Fr. Scott led the charge. He got the new church built after 40 years of fund raising and with our new facilities, new ministries flourished and grew. It was a fun time to be in the parish. And, of course, one day – too soon for most – Fr. Scott announced he was being transferred. People were not happy – “How could they do this? What will happen to us?” What happened was Fr. John arrived and led a busy parish into an era of spiritual growth. Fr. Martin followed him – he was the last Franciscan pastor. Msgr. Cassidy came next, and then Fr. Steve…And every time God provided that once-little parish with the pastor they needed for the times they faced.
As I said, I am an optimist about such things. Bishop Lynch has done a great job; he did what was his to do – it is now time for him to enjoy a slower pace. Bishop Parkes will do what is his to do for the greater glory of God. Please keep them both in our prayers. And may God bless them in their new ministries.