3. Subsequent reflections
5. Over to you! Click on "comments" above right (or at the bottom of the page) to add your thoughts.
Mgr Gerry Hand published an account of the same event in Open House. His article is here.
He also led an evening on Nov 4th, 2015 taking these ideas forward - see notes here.
This article is a collation of the notes and reflections of fifteen of the people who travelled from Edinburgh and the Lothians, to Dunfermline on the evening of Monday, July 20th 2015. We joined a gathering of around 150 people... It had a heady combination of graciousness, frustration and anger. Although in Scotland on vacation from his post as rector of St.Mary and Borromeo Seminary in Ohio, Fr Mark Latcovich accepted an invitation to meet with people to talk about parish reorganisation from a USA perspective. The parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, Dunfermline, and their deanery hospitably opened the evening to a wider audience. The word gracious can also be used for Fr Mark's response to a Corrywreckan-like swirl of comments that could have persisted until morning.
The frustration and anger felt by some was not focussed on Fr Mark's words. In part it was due to the fact that someone has to travel 3500 miles in order that a gathering about parish reorganisation, with participants from across cluster boundaries, be held in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. In part it was because people were hearing of good practice, valid assumptions and canon laws that seemed as yet to have little recognition in events here. In part it was a consequence of the absence of clarity about what on earth is going on the the Archdiocese. (What is the process, at what time-scale, of which the cluster meetings later in the year are an element?) All this made for a complex and thought provoking evening.
The evening achieved the objective stated by Fr Mark: that he might help to prime the discussions beginning in our Archdiocese, by reflecting on the Church in his home area – but not by commenting on our circumstances. This article outlines the content of Fr Mark's talk, the discussion that followed, and the subsequent thoughts arising in reflection among us. Finally, attention is drawn to the resources and annotated bibliography provided by Fr Mark.
Outline of Talk
Among statements that Fr Mark assumed his audience accepted were:
- Roman Catholicism entails us being in communion with Rome via the Bishop (Its not a congregational model). The local issues are therefore also seen in a much wider perspective (canon law 96).
- We are called through baptism to share in priesthood, to evangelise and sanctify.
- We need to distinguish parish and church. The former refers to a people entrusted to a pastor; the latter to a building. (See catechism and canon law 515.1). The church might close, but the parish persists, reconstituted.
- strong community
- worship, especially on Sunday
- evangelising – new people come in.
- people learning, teaching, and seeing truths
- activities where people gather
- reaching out to the poor, those with no place to go
- developing leadership: lay, religious, volunteers...
- having good stewardship of 3 Ts: time, talent, treasure
Several studies have gathered experiences that Fr Mark passed on to us. Effective discernment, prior to deciding about the future of a church or parish, typically has included
- spiritual formation and
- good communication throughout (keeping everyone informed; making it easy to be up to date)
- awarenesses including
- of the missionary option – see Joy of the Gospel, paragraph 27: an impulse capable of transforming everything
- that structures have always changed through Church history – but the people are the Church. The future is not scary! Possible closing is about moving, not obliteration.
- of the missionary option – see Joy of the Gospel, paragraph 27: an impulse capable of transforming everything
- A Bishop setting a broad plan – such as requiring parishes to do a vibrancy assessment
- consultation involving presbyterial councils (priests - canon law 495.1) and pastoral councils
- “town hall” meetings with publicity [to give everyone a voice in open discussion, and to inform vision and planning]
- planning then happens from the grass roots, locally encouraged by and in consultation with the Bishop, with a wider perspective than that one parish
- local [cluster] discussion, assessment, planning, pastoral mapping including asking: what ministries can be shared across parishes?
- “appreciative inquiry” in which a parish would celebrate its history, their giftedness in the years they have been there.
- the process of closure is exact and in canon law
- people and resources need care and accounting for (canon law 1214). This includes their emotional and psychological energies.
One American parish priest noticed three groups of people to be taken into account and talked with: a) the 30% who are affiliated: “in the know”, come and are involved; b) the semi-active who come 2 or 3 times a year, aren't alert to the bulletin for example, but who become very active if closure is discussed... and who, if closure does not happen, still don't come; c) those on the periphery. Each group has an identity through association with the parish.
If closure does happen then the process is akin to the stages known in grieving including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then acceptance that God is still with us and that new opportunities will open.
We had long statements, rather than questions.
One issue raised by a couple of people was that in our Archdiocese the reorganisation is “driven by the shortage of priests, and a cost-cutting exercise as if we were Starbucks”. Fr Mark responded by mentioning the healthy number of people in the Cleveland seminary, 67 and called us all to encourage young men to become priests. An interjection “and young women?” led Fr Mark to say how a young woman had founded a new order with 21 in the community. Fr Mark said how some archdioceses had recognised that they were not using the laity enough: positions of lay pastoral coordinators were established. Parishes with lay coordinators are in a structure in communion with and with support from, the Bishop. They enable priests to focus on their specific calling. [See canon law 515.2, the bibliography, and additional links in “from the USA” on this page]
Another spoke of the need for a vision in our Archdiocese – so we were not just re-cutting what we have - ans asked ow do we open communication with an Archbishop not engaging with us?! Fr Mark suggested begin at parish level with the “vibrancy” question, then invite the Archbishop to a listening session with all parishes in the deanery [cluster].
Reflections among the 15 folk from Edinburgh and the Lothians indicate some of the ways in which Fr Mark achieved his stated aim of promoting discussion:
- We should be giving our Parish Councils a more important place in our parishes and they should reflect all aspects of Parish life (finance and fabric & planning decisions as well as fund-raising, along with the usual liturgical matters etc. )
- We should be assessing how vibrant our parish is: can in sustain itself, is it free from debt, do we have ongoing lay training and support?
- It was obvious from Fr Mark's talk that lay people played a prominent part in the 3 year consultations that took place. We should be expecting no less in time or consultation for decisions in our own Archdiocese.
- The large turn out was a reflection of the concerns of the laity about the future of our Archdiocese.
- This event was for many the first opportunity for people to verbalise their frustration about what has happened in our Archdiocese.
- The importance of lay formation and lay ministry – given the clerical centralism of our Archdiocese, we are sadly far away from making lay parish coordinators routine. It highlights the extent to which that portrayed as crisis is in fact opportunity – a Spirit-led opportunity for growth.
- It was frustrating that we lacked the time to explore the role of parish lay coordinator.
- This change process began in the US some 40 years ago (1970 was mentioned in the talk), We are only beginning to talk about it now and in that time the Church has changed. I feel we learned a few very useful pointers for the future from Fr Mark’s talk. In particular for pastoral Mapping involving:
- What does Parish mean to people?
- The need to be sensitive and listening to each other
- We need a change of mindset and to be more open about our views
- We need to be aware of feelings of people who have been in a Parish for a lifetime and who are anxious about what will happen (“It can’t be happening”)
- What are the problems, issues and opportunities
- The need to develop leadership
- Find Lay volunteers
- Finding the people in our communities with talents and what they have to offer
- Engaging and encouraging people to get involved
- What can we learn from neighbouring parishes, how they run the parish?
- “By telling us about the 67 seminarians I think Fr Mark was suggesting that vibrant communities produce more candidates for the priesthood. This is something which I think Archbishop Cushley believes profoundly. Personally, I think vibrant communities produce their own forms of ministry - this is an essential part of what makes them vibrant”.
Fr Mark did also refer to new forms of ministry with pastoral lay ministers, but in our Archdiocese those exercising power do seem only to be seeking more priests.
- Links to Appreciative Inquiry as applied in Scotland are here::
and follow on from http://www.imaginechicago.org, Here, Chicago high school students showed that once the questions and structure are right, then its a process that can readily be used without huge prior experience.
- "We should not forget the day held in Edinburgh on March 14" - Sharing vision - the future of Church.
That was perhaps akin to a Town Hall meeting, with elements including lay-led theological reflection, prayer, seeking vision by building on the positive to identify what is essential, a focus on listening, a mix of small group and open floor ... the sort of pattern we might envisage in future meetings?
- about `town hall` meetings – would these be for us cluster or wider meetings to discuss the way forward for our Archdiocese? Might they be needed at an early stage to encourage vision, given the way so many parishes and lay people have not had adequate formation since Vatican II? Aren't these meetings a way to evangelise ourselves in the lead up to reorganisation? “Joy of the Gospel” is a wonderful resource here!
- How do we establish communication with an Archbishop who does not yet communicate with us?
- How do we need to assimilate our own history in the last ten years? – not least since Now Is The Favourable Time – while observing that this was more a structure for the Archdiocese than a vision.
- How do we forge a vision we share?! (“We Have found the Messiah” might encourage thought, but it does not express a vision we can all accept.) A stronger vision would raise us from the fearful anxiety that seems prevalent.
Final words from Fr Latcovich, by email:
"I had a marvellous holiday and enjoyed meeting the people from various parishes. The fact that people came and wanted to talk suggests a wonderful level of vibrancy and a continuing need for dialogue.
"Below is a list of several documents from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that you may find helpful as an aid for a parish to reflect on regarding the domains of parish life and vibrancy
Archdiocese of Philadelphia, “Guided by Faith Workbook: Cluster Pastoral Planning Process, September 1997.” Accessible at http://archphila.org/pastplan/ (accessed October 20, 2014).
Aimed at the spiritual renewal of the Catholic faithful despite the declining number of diocesan and religious priests, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia issued the first of many pastoral plans for all existing parishes. This diocesan plan is a very helpful and practical tool for pastors and parish leaders who wish to examine the vitality of their parishes while being involved in the merger process. Parish leaders who do not have much experience in the areas of merging or closing of parishes will greatly benefit from this step by step guidance plan.
Archdiocese of Philadelphia, “Characteristics Found in Vital Parishes, Spring 2003.” Accessible at http://archphila.org/pastplan/ (accessed October 20, 2014).
People in leadership positions who work for culturally and economically diverse Catholic parishes will find this plan to be an indispensable parish evaluation tool that covers essential areas of parish life and ministry. Catholic parishes are encouraged to live in accordance with their missions, as well as a clear vision for the future. Parish pastoral councils will greatly benefit from this practical and easy to use tool, especially in the process of developing specific goals for the future of the church community. While developing a pastoral plan for the future, the seven fundamental areas of parish life must be taken into consideration. The fundamental areas are worship, Christian community, evangelization, teaching, service, leadership, and stewardship.
Archdiocese of Philadelphia, “Call to Conversion and Holiness, In-Depth Evaluation of Parish Life, Fall 2011.” Accessible at http://archphila.org/pastplan/ (accessed October 20, 2014).
Presented here is one of the best available evaluation tools regarding various aspects of parish life. Parish church communities of today have been significantly affected by the drastic changes in the demographics of the Catholic population and the continuous decline in the numbers of available priests. With the dwindling financial resources and the number of parishioners involved in the life of their church communities, some parishes need to take an honest look at their missions and vitality. This plan serves as an excellent resource providing a step by step guide for pastors and parish leaders faced with matters concerning parish planning and parish evaluation.
Annotated bibliography - click here
Canon law: http://www.intratext.com/IXT/ENG0017/_INDEX.HTM (Note the subtitles include the numbers of paragraphs)
See this Vigil Group web page, including resources under "from the USA "
Forward Together in Hope " a three-year journey of renewal across the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.