On 9th March, Bishop Peter asked the diocese to consider how we can continue to support our many parishes through new forms of leadership. Through our baptism we are called to be co-sharers in the mission of the Church:
“Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as children of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.”Catechism of the Catholic Church, para 1213
The diocese also faces a dramatic shortage of priests into the future. In these circumstances Canon Law allows for other forms of leadership for parishes:
If, because of a lack of priests, the diocesan bishop has decided that participation in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish is to be entrusted to a deacon, to another person who is not a priest, or to a community of persons, he is to appoint some priest who, provided with the powers and faculties of a pastor, is to direct the pastoral care.Code of Canon Law, 517.2
Over the past few months, the diocese has undertaken a wide-ranging consultation process, via a series of Pastoral Area Reflection Days. Here is Bishop Peter’s introduction to the days:
And in this video, Fr Francis Higgins explains thinking behind the Mandated Ministry roles:
We are currently asking each Pastoral Area to consider where these roles might play a part as part of their local provision. This is based on the following outline of roles:
Pastoral Coordinators will be based in a smaller community where there is a non-resident Parish Priest often based in an adjoining parish. These may be clustered parishes or a large parish with a number of smaller communities. Parish Coordinators would hold the leadership for their local community under the supervision of the parish priest, who would also provide the sacraments. The needs of each parish community are very different, so each role would be created individually, in consultation with the clergy and pastoral council. This is a pastoral and spiritual role, not simply an administrative role. In collaboration with the Parish Priest they will provide local spiritual and administrative leadership for a small Catholic community.
Pastoral Leaders will be based in larger parishes without resident priests, often with no nearby parish priest. They will serve under Canon 517.2, being appointed by the Bishop to the spiritual and administrative leadership of that community. Sacramental ministry could be undertaken by a retired priest, living in the presbytery or locally, a rota of visiting priests or a neighbouring priest.
The Pastoral Leader will be responsible to the Priest Moderator (see below). As with the Pastoral Coordinator, each role will be developed bespoke with the parish according to local needs. Their duties may include working with the parish pastoral council to develop a plan for the mission of the community; coordinating and supporting volunteers; overseeing the pastoral ministry of the parish, such as sacramental preparation and visiting the sick; encouraging social activities; overseeing the financial and administrative administration required by the diocese; and being part of pastoral area and ecumenical networks.
The Pastoral Leader is responsible to the Priest Moderator who will supervise their work and mentor their ministry. It will be critical for the priest moderator and the Pastoral Leader to meet regularly, for example monthly, or more regularly in the first year.
These new roles will be official appointments of the Church, appointed by the Bishop. Those fulfilling them will be expected to have undergone a discernment process similar to the diaconate, and to have the appropriate diocesan training. Many Pastoral Coordinator roles, especially in smaller communities where fewer hours are required, will be on a non-stipendiary ministry basis. This is customary in other churches, and is the position of deacons in their diaconal ministry. The roles with greater numbers of hours (including Pastoral Leader roles) will usually be stipendiary, with financial responsibility taken by the local community or Pastoral Area, as Pastoral Associate roles are currently. With numbers of priests falling, it is expected that there will be savings that can be made (eg in living costs where a priest is no longer resident) which can be redirected towards stipendiary roles.
This is a consultative process, aided by prayer and reflection. The process of consultation has so far encompassed hundreds of people across the diocese and is ongoing. The forms of these roles is still in outline, to be formalised only as a result of the feedback we have received, and the shape a role might take in a particular place. We would love to hear your feedback: please send comments to Avril Baigent who is looking after this process for the diocese. Mission plans will be presented to Bishop Peter and there will be a gathering of all the Pastoral Area Councils on March 28th, 2020.
At the same time we are also in the process of setting up a three year training course (more on this later in 2020) and would like to invite all those interested in considering one of these roles to come to a Come and See session on 29th February at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Woburn Sands. For more information about this session, and to register a place, please go here.