What will you will do when your parish no longer has a priest? Do you feel this is not your problem? Do you believe it will never happen because the Church will always get a priest from somewhere? Will you simply drive to a church that has a priest? Are you bothered if your parish is subsumed into a bigger parish and disappears as a separate entity? It is time to think about this because priest numbers are not going to increase and soon many parishes in this Diocese will not have their own priest.
On 21 September people from across the Diocese gathered at Wickersley for an Assembly Half Day. The subject was the Doncaster ‘Parishes of Hope‘ initiative which is designed to enable Catholic Christians to meet the challenges that face the Church and, in the process, develop their faith and ministry.
The main speaker was Frank McDermott who explained that his parish in Doncaster had been without a priest for several years and the parishioners had considered how they could deal with this to ensure their parish did not lose its individual identity. They recognised that a priest would always be needed for certain things and Frank paid tribute to a retired priest who, every Saturday, drives 30 miles to say the vigil Mass for them, but there is still much that lay people can do.
They were influenced by St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in which he makes clear that whilst the Church is one body it is made up of many parts. These parts are the people of God each of whom is endowed with different talents and abilities. By themselves, these have limited effect but together they are so powerful that they can fulfill Christ’s mission on Earth.
Frank said that Parishes of Hope had been based certain fundamental principles:
• Every baptised person shares in the priesthood of Christ and has a duty to work to build Christ’s mission according to their ability and talent. This is not just the role of ordained people.
• No one is more important than or of less value than anyone else. Everyone is entitled to respect because they are made in the image and likeness of God.
• We all have a divine origin and share an eternal destiny.
• The key is collaboration and working together. It is not about a parishioner becoming a pseudo parish priest. It is about identifying and using the skills of lay people so that they can meet their potential in the service of God’s Kingdom here on Earth.
• We are not by ourselves. The Holy Spirit will guide our good intentions, therefore, there is a need for prayer to discern the Spirit’s will. The sick and housebound may not be able to do much but they can make a powerful contribution by holding the parish in their prayers.
• Planning and preparation are essential. The process is evolutionary, not revolutionary. It takes time to evolve. People need time to take on board that change is necessary. The development is also heavily influenced by the support and enthusiasm of key people.
Frank went on to say that the view had been that it would be sensible to extend the Parishes of Hope initiative across all the parishes in Doncaster.
Fr Gus O’Reilly, the Dean of Doncaster, then spoke about the role of the clergy in Parishes of Hope. He said that initially some priests, just like some laity, had felt threatened by it and that there had been a need to develop trust that the project was designed to ensure that individual parishes were maintained. Fr Gus talked about the need for strong fellowship between priests and deacons so that they accepted not just responsibility for their own parish but for the whole deanery.
As Dean, he saw his primary role as the building and maintaining of this trust and fellowship; he said it had taken time to do this but eventually the idea of a priest working across parish boundaries had taken off.
He referred to the value of the Forum which comprised thirty members from all parishes in the Deanery and which met regularly. Also, an inventory had been drawn up to show what was available and who did what in each parish so that anyone needing to do anything in that parish knew who to contact for whatever they required.
Finally, Fr Gus made the point that change never ceases and we must never cease to change. It is the only way to grow.
Gerry McLister, the Chair of the Doncaster Forum said that, for him, Parishes of Hope represented four aspirations:
• A framework for collaboration and partnership.
• A resource that enables us to adapt to a changing world.
• It enables Catholic Christians to come together and to have an influence wider than is possible in their own parish
• It develops leadership and gives enthusiasm for a role in the parish, deanery and universal Church
Frank McDermott provided each person at the Half Day with a CD. This contains a vast amount of information about Parishes of Hope and draft orders of service to guide a lay person who may, for example, need to lead a service of word and communion or a funeral.
Throughout the morning there were opportunities for discussion. There was acceptance that it would not be long before more parishes were without a priest. Rather than seeing this negatively, it should be embraced as an opportunity for the People of God to move away from being priest led and to play a larger and more meaningful leadership role in their Church. Parishes of Hope is clearly ideal for this process.
More information is available on the Hallam website and from Frank McDermott on firstname.lastname@example.org. Each parish in the Diocese will be provided with a CD and Frank is happy to provide additional ones on request at a cost of £10 per CD. This charge is to cover costs and any profit goes to charity.