As some will know, Sheffield is now a single deanery. In the Mass count taken in October, 2017 there were nearly 5000 people at Mass across the deanery, spread over forty Sunday Masses – plus one Mass at the Carmelite monastery at Kirk Edge, Hallam’s powerhouse of prayer and peace, where the sisters pray daily for the diocese.
Priests are allowed to celebrate no more than three Sunday Masses, including the Saturday vigil, so forty Sunday Masses in Sheffield would soon be unsustainable. The first step in addressing this issue was to cluster some parishes together. Then, Bishop Ralph asked us to decrease the numbers of Masses in the clusters wherever practicable, with the changes to come into effect from Advent, 2018.
We have had three deanery-wide meetings of clergy and parish representatives to provide information about, and impetus to, the process of change.
Information on these meetings can be seen on a deanery web page: sites.google.com/view/sheffield-deanery/, along with three prayers for the diocese and deanery which people appreciated. Here is one of the prayers.
Lord Jesus, look on us in love
as we seek the way forward in our diocese.
Inspire us with your Spirit
that we may approach the future
with wisdom, discernment and generosity.
Make our hearts burn within us as we walk with you,
that we may be renewed as communities of Good News.
We place our trust in you,
who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen
Our final meeting collected impressions of the impact of the changes so far. The picture was varied. Some parishes felt the benefit from larger congregations at fewer Masses, but parishes were also dealing with the challenges of integrating new people and with people’s pain over the loss of familiar arrangements. Another positive aspect mentioned was the possibility for being more effective through co-operation between parishes in a cluster. Of course, other parishes had seen little change.
As a result of the changes, the number of Sunday Masses is now thirty-three, and there is some scope for further reduction. Based on the October, 2017 numbers, this should now make the average attendance at a Sunday Mass in Sheffield a bit less than 150.
It is clear, from the number and the ages of our priests, that further change lies ahead across the diocese, so it is worth repeating words from one of the documents from the dean, Fr John Cooke, “We are a Eucharistic Church. Sunday Mass is the focal point of our identity; we know this. It is painful to look at a reduction in provision. But change, though sometimes painful, is also a gateway to renewal. The practical questions, ‘What time will Mass be?’ and ‘Where will it be?’ don’t really get to the heart of the matter. We are called to be vibrant, life-giving gatherings at Sunday Mass, from which people go out wanting to be, in both action and word, the embodiment of the Good News of Jesus.”
This fits in with Pope Francis’ description of us all as being, by baptism, missionary disciples. Sunday Mass is the ‘engine’ of our missionary endeavour.
Deacon John Biggins, St William of York