Theological and Pastoral implications in a multi parish context.
A short report on the study day held at Hothorpe Hall – and led by Fr. Eugene Duffy from Limerick, who is renowned for his work with communities coming together in the absence of a resident priest:-
“The Church is a sacrament, a community gifted by the Holy Spirit, no single community has all the gifts – we are interdependent”. The current reality of the situation is that we have a diminishing number of priests. (Maybe it is the Holy Spirit’s way of getting us to change?!)
Change is inevitable and must be embraced both by Clergy and Laity. Collaboration is paramount and must be done thoughtfully and respectfully
There are a small number of churchgoers available to effect this change (80% of the work done in parishes is by women)
It is better to start planning now for a different “landscape” than to panic in a few years’ time and get it all wrong!
The main response so far is the “clustering of churches” or the creation of “Pastoral Areas” –These should build up the strength of parishes not diminish them. People should be made aware that they will not lose their parish, but will hopefully enjoy the companionship of their neighbours. No community exists as an island and collaboration will build a better sense of belonging, both to the cluster and to the diocese.
We need to look outwards, and not guard what we have worked to produce unwilling to move on.
There is a need for the priest to be articulate about the vision of a collaborative church.
We need to remember the demands of ecumenism and inter-faith, to always look to good practice in all that we do. This all adds to the burden of change.
When sharing a priest each cluster will need to build structures to keep the parish working and serving. The priest in charge must be comfortable with delegating responsibility. This arrangement will need full time monitoring – PPC/full time minister (ordained or not) or possibly a central Pastoral Council, with members from all participating parishes.
Clustering requires a team ministry. Its success depends on the ability to work together and to work out a common approach. There will need to be clear statements of responsibility and activities (Administration/Masses/groups etc)
Each parish will need a “Leader” whether this be a Deacon/Lay member/ Council chairman, But there must be a priest overseeing all of this.
As each priest comes and goes the community will still be there so it is important that they can be strong in their plans and include the “new priest” in these plans, rather than the priest trying to change what is already in place.
Training and preparation for Service leadership in the absence of a priest will be required, and the congregation will need to be unified and educated on the viability and efficacy of such services, both liturgical and learning groups.
Resources can be shared, for instance Finance, (e.g. parish administration/employment of lay workers) Formation, Sacramental training etc. many of these types of projects can be combined to take advantage of different talents spread around the cluster.
Quite often we are happy to give but find it hard to receive. We must be able to ask for help when we are struggling with a problem.
- Collaboration is the building up of the Body of Christ
- We need to co-ordinate things more effectively
- We need to discern the people who have the need of the services and those who are able to give them.
- We need to be attentive to the Holy Spirit (Pope Francis), but she may be more unruly than you expect!!
- All our dealings with our neighbouring parishes – and with our own congregations –must be done with generosity and patience.
- Think! What do we need that the other parish can help with, not what we can do for them – a softer approach?
- We must carry on with our efforts to work with other Christians and those of other faiths, and not let this fall by the wayside.
Clustering can facilitate renewal in the faithful, but how it is led is crucial, the process needs good leadership both at local and diocesan level. A useful tool to refer to is the Power Cycle:
1. Evaluation – Discernment: 2. Recommendation: 3. Decision made. 4. Action
It is important to complete the cycle – only going part way again and again drains energy and the willingness to carry on. If agreement on something cannot be reached or if something is not successful, agree to ‘bin it’ and move on.
People need to be empowered to share the responsibility of restructuring parish life. It necessitates careful listening and learning – everyone has something to give. There is a responsibility for the leaders to ensure that discussions and decisions are facilitated efficiently. We can learn from the good practice of organisations in industry/business/social groups etc.
In all our dealings with other parishes we must be aware of our own relationship with God, of where He is and how He is leading us. We must engage with people respectfully, with a generous spirit and work with the good in people.
We must have the courage to go with the change and work FOR IT. To avoid “lording it” over people and the desire to be popular, but rather, have a sense of vision that elicits support and engagement. We must be ready to offer a challenge, to shoulder responsibility, to be tolerant of failure – we all get it wrong sometimes.
In the absence of a resident priest we will need to focus on Prayer and on the reading of the Gospels – private and communal. We will need to learn to balance ‘prayer and life’, and ‘Eucharist and witness’. The Mass may not be always available so we have to accept this and learn to worship in more inventive ways. Ways which resonate with the local community.
The primary task of a priest is to preach the Word of God, to inform and nurture and to lead by example in teaching the Christian way. He is involved in ongoing formation and evangelisation. It is important that all clergy are supported by their peers and elders in this great debate; this is as challenging to them as it is to the laity.
We are a community of persons called into existence by God, to witness His inclusive love and reconciliation, leading people back to full communion of life with God. Everyone is at a different stage on that journey and we need to be patient and discerning about their state.
We are called to reach out beyond the “committed” (– where are all the young professionals, are they searching for something more? Can we tap into their expertise?)
Our image of God
God is love – love of all. He is the Supreme Being, a merciful father, alone-unique-distant.
But not thinking in terms of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) leads to authoritarianism, paternalism and machismo. The Trinity is a relationship of love, a God of indiscriminate, divine welcome; we are called to build a church of love and acceptance.