A report on the two rounds of meetings that took place in the diocese in the last year about the possible grouping of parishes in new ways.
Sharing the Lord’s Mission – Report June 2011
The report includes three maps and a listing of the 26 meetings that were held across the diocese in September/October 2010 and in March/April 2011
Sharing the Lord’s Mission – handout September 2010
Sharing the Lord’s Mission – report
Over the last the last ten years or so, we have begun to group some of the 56 parishes in our diocese together under one Parish Priest (see ‘Deaneries & Clusters’ Map on page 4). At present 17 parishes are grouped together in 8 ‘clusters’.
This happened because priests’ numbers have fallen. These new groupings came about when and where vacancies appeared. The age profile of our priests in K&L is very top-heavy and, until this changes, more vacancies will appear.
During 2009, under Bishop Moriarty’s stewardship, our priests looked at a different approach to grouping parishes that goes beyond just the numbers of priests and a ‘when and where’ response. This different approach would involve all parishes and would require a plan for sharing all ministries, services and resources (including sharing priests) between neighbouring parishes.
It was agreed to share these ideas formally with the whole diocese, including a map (Pastoral Areas Map Draft 1) that would show how this approach could be applied across the diocese. In other words, to show how we could group parishes together in a new way.
Two rounds of meetings
Following the resignation of Bishop Moriarty in April 2010, Monsignor Brendan Byrne, as Diocesan Administrator, took on the task of organising a diocesan-wide discussion of how we can best respond to having fewer priests and how we can best support local faith communities fulfil the mission of the Church – to live and proclaim the Good News.
Two well-attended rounds of meetings (26 in all) were held across the diocese in September/October 2010 and in March/April 2011 under the title ‘Sharing the Lord’s Mission’. People had the opportunity to give their views on an initial draft map that grouped our 56 parishes into 13 possible ‘pastoral areas’ a later revised version with 14 possible ‘pastoral areas’ (see Pastoral Areas Map Draft 1 & 2 on pages 5 & 6).
The second round of meetings had the benefit of a printed report of the responses from the first round of meetings which included the revised map.
It was clearly stated at all times that as we are awaiting the appointment of our new Bishop, our meetings were not about taking decisions. In the words of Monsignor Byrne, these meetings were intended –
‘to ensure that we are sharing the same questions,that we are looking at the same figures and maps as we prepare for the next stage of our pilgrim journey as a diocese’.
This next stage will begin with the appointment of our new Bishop, who will be fully briefed on all that has come from our discussions. No decisions have been taken at this point.
Summary of responses
This summary is drawn from:
- Responses by participants at the open meetings
- Individually submitted responses outside of those meetings
‘Pastoral Areas’ and Parish Identity
Overall, the responses reaffirmed that people have a very strong attachment to their local church and parish. We have 117 churches in our 56 parishes. There are clear concerns that smaller parishes might lose their identity and local services as part of a ‘pastoral area’. There were also concerns about how the finances of individual parishes would be handled within a ‘pastoral area’.
At the same time, people recognise the need now for sharing ministries, services and resources (including sharing priests) between neighbouring parishes. ‘Pastoral areas’ have the potential to serve as a strong platform for greater lay involvement. The benefits could include the possibility for –
- more centralised training for parish ministry (e.g. Baptism teams)
- rationalisation of some of the administration (and costs) at local level
- greater support for clergy (shared Mass rotas, holiday cover etc.)
- more effective communication between parishes
- combined pastoral initiatives – e.g. pilgrimages
Maps of possible ‘Pastoral Areas’
Most people thought Pastoral Areas Map Draft 1 was well thought out geographically. There were some changes suggested and Pastoral Areas Map Draft 2 grouped parishes into 14 rather than 13 possible ‘pastoral areas’. There were some concerns about Draft 2 – for example the placement of Arles Parish. Again the maps are drafts, not decisions.
Although some of the possible ‘pastoral areas’ seemed large there were suggestions that ways would be found to work together in smaller groupings within a ‘pastoral area’.
A number of practical issues and questions were raised in regard to leadership, management and training including –
- Who will lead this change?
- How will ‘pastoral areas’ be organised and who will lead them?
- Can we learn from other dioceses or organisations?
While some parish groupings are already looking at practical ways to work together, the decision to make formal changes to our existing groupings of parishes rests with our new Bishop.
Changing face of ministry
There was clear appreciation for our priests and concern for their workload. This concern has implications for the care of priests themselves, for the provision of services at a local level and for the local relationship between priests and people.
Priests themselves need to look at their own role in this changing situation. Priests will have to engage in a new level of partnership with parishioners, volunteers and paid staff as well as with each other. This will bring new challenges and perhaps the need for ongoing training. Priests will need to be supported in this change.
The need to continue to work for vocations to the priesthood was also highlighted. The suggestion was repeatedly raised that we need to consider sourcing more priests from abroad.
The future introduction of permanent deacons was welcomed by some and queried by others, in light of its restrictions (e.g. male only). There was a lack of clarity about their role and their relationship with existing ministry in the parish – lay and ordained.
The issue of ordination being reserved to males only was raised many times, as was the issue of celibacy.
The role of women in the church and the need for the greater involvement of women in decision making in the church was seen by many as a key issue.
Need for new evangelisation
In all our planning, it was understood that we must not lose sight of the ‘mission’ that we are trying to serve and share. The Good News must define and shape all our work.
What we are seeking is the best way of working together to proclaim the Good News in our time and place. There is a very real need for a new evangelisation – to reach out to youth, to parents and families, to those who do not attend Mass.
The feedback from the meetings shows that we understand that this is a shared mission among all the people of God.
To sum up, in the words of Monsignor Byrne –
The discussion about the grouping of parishes that took place initially among priests in 2009 has now blossomed into a properly open and inclusive discussion.
While the movement towards greater lay involvement has been slow, there has been steady progress. We need to keep moving forward. We are a pilgrim people always called to ‘go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord’.
I would like to thank everyone for their very positive participation in this process. It has left us better informed and better prepared for what lies ahead.