Stewards of the Gospel
Coming Soon – the First Formal Proposal for Renewal and Restructuring of our Diocese.
Following our last Parish Meeting at which we discussed the Diocese’s Draft Working Plan, Fr Jeff and I met with Bishop Alan along with Diocesan Clergy and Stewards to discuss the feedback received from across the Diocese. At the meeting we were advised that the next document, the First Formal Proposal, would be available to us all in time for the First Sunday of Advent.
What will the First Formal Proposal be about?
The Proposal will build on the Renewal and Restructuring Framework outlined in the Draft Working Plan along with feedback which you provided through the earlier consultation. It will to go into more detail about how the Diocese will restructure itself in the short to medium term to address the decreasing number of Priests in our Diocese and to ensure that we more effectively evangelise within our parishes and surrounding communities. It is expected that it will include details on what impact this will have specific to each parish.
We can therefore be certain that the proposals will effect St Peters' and our neighbouring parishes.
How can I view the Proposal?
We will be posting the document on the St Peters Parish website during the week leading up to the First Sunday of Advent (3rd December) and would ask everyone who has internet access to view the document in this way.
For those who are unable to access the website, a limited number of copies of the document will be available for collection from the Narthex on Sunday 3rd December.
Video Message from Bishop Alan
We will also be provided with a DVD containing a filmed message from Bishop Alan to all parishioners which will also be posted on our parish website so that you can watch or listen to it at home.
We also plan to organise a viewing of the DVD available for those without internet access. More on that to follow once we’ve figured out how and when!
Will I have an opportunity to discuss the Proposal and share my thoughts with Fr Jeff, our Steward and fellow parishioners?
Yes. This is the “First” Formal Proposal, not the final document. Bishop Alan wants every parishioner to continue to be offered an opportunity to have their say in the future of our Diocese. So when the document is available, please read it carefully and prayerfully. We intend to hold a further Parish Meeting early in the New Year to debate the Plan so we can provide representative feedback to the Diocese. Invitations to the meeting will follow soon.
We are now entering what shall be an exciting but challenging phase of the initiative. We shall no doubt continue to discover positive new ways of working within our own parish community and collaborating with neighbouring parishes to renew our collective evangelical mission of sharing the Good News.
Difficult decisions will also be taken concerning the future of Parishes and their Priests. This will almost certainly involve merging or linking existing parishes and/or closing certain church buildings and relocating Clergy. We should all be especially mindful of the anxiety that many of our Clergy are experiencing in this time of uncertainty. Please continue to pray for Fr Jeff and his family that they may receive the love, care and support from us all to see them through this difficult time.
Steward of the Gospel
Since we undertook our own Parish consultation and provided our feedback to the Diocese, much work has continued behind the scenes.
In our Parish we have started to take some small but important steps by acting on what we heard during the consultation earlier this year. We now have ‘meeters-and greeters’ at the Sunday Masses; Fr Jeff is running catechesis sessions on a Monday evening with further courses planned for the autumn and we are in the early stages of forming our Parish Community Group to provide greater opportunities for us to come together as a parish family.
From a Diocesan perspective, the Diocese has now concluded its initial review of the feedback from all the Parish Questionnaires from across the Diocese and in turn is now able to provide us with an initial Diocesan-wide view in the form of Steven Webb’s “Preliminary Observations” document.
I would like to share this document with you all. The full document is available on our Parish website, and, if your email address in on the Parish database, will also be emailed to you. For those that do not have access to the internet or email, copies of the document will be available in the narthex from Sunday 23rd July.
You will see that there were four very clear issues to which importance and priority was attached by many Parishes which very much mirror the views of our own Parish which we outlined in our post-consultation feedback to you in May of this year, namely:
- Young People
- Adult Formation
- Lay Training
- Succession Planning
Steven also reiterates in his document the 2 separate but interrelated aspects of the SoG initiative:
How can we become better evangelists in spreading the Gospel within our Parish community and beyond.
How we should (re)organise ourselves across the Diocese to respond to the shortage of Priests and other resource challenges we collectively face now and into the future.
Here is what Steven has to say, particularly on the latter subject.
"It is time to think beyond the constraints of the parish." This was the blunt message from Diocesan Director of Development Steven Webb to Stewards of the Gospel at a recent meeting at Campion School to discuss the way forward for the Diocese. He said that while responses to the parish questionnaires showed a recognition of the need for change, the scale of the challenge was being hugely underestimated. “The typical responses to the question ‘How does your community feel about being part of a new parish?’ were not positive,” he said. “People want ‘access’ to a priest but the stark truth is that in 20 years’ time, we will have half the number of priests.”
He showed a graphic representation of the change in numbers which clearly demonstrated his point. “Restructuring is going to impact on every parish – that is the scale of the challenge we face. It is time for a new human response, time for a change of heart so that we stop looking inwards into the parish.”
Alongside the necessary restructuring, however, is the inspiring element of renewal. “The two are separate but interconnected and interdependent. We must never lose sight of the fact that we want to be the best Church across Essex and East London that we can be.”
Renewal is the way to ensure that promise. “It is part of our new human response to God’s love for us. It is about evangelising and stewardship, doing things differently and doing them together. And, based on parish responses, we must focus on young people, adult formation, lay training and succession planning for tasks in the parish.”
He said the Church has a three-fold responsibility: to proclaim the word of God; to celebrate the sacraments; and to exercise the ministry of charity.
The last is particularly important for the work of the Stewards, he added. “Going forward, we need the generosity of spirit that Bishop Alan has talked about. We must love and care for one another, priests and people. Our expectation of our neighbours needs to be realistic and generous.”
In Exodus, he said, Jethro tells Moses that he is taking on too much and how to delegate. And in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, there is advice on changing ways of doing things. And both are applicable today. “We are facing changes in circumstances too. New ways of doing things are needed. It is not just about priest numbers - the ways things are being done in society as a whole are changing.”
In practice, he said, life for all of us needs to change. “Priests cannot go on with more and more responsibilities – they will tire themselves, like Moses. We must ensure that doesn’t happen. We need to ‘select people of good reputation’, as the Apostles advised, and develop and train them to help with those tasks.” We need to cherish priests and recognise each other’s contributions to Christian life, he added.
“The key is keeping Christ at the centre of everything we do,” he concluded.
Whilst we may feel secure with the status quo with the ‘embarrassment of riches’ we have here at St Peter’s through the Ministry provided by our Ordinariate Priests and Deacon, we will not be immune from change. No decisions have been made as to what this change may actually mean to us so I would encourage you again to consider again how you feel about the possibility of our Parish become linked/joined to a neighbouring Parish and how this might work in practical terms to ensure we have access to Priests, the Sacraments and the spiritual and pastoral care we need for our Catholic community to thrive. Please discuss this with your fellow Parishioners and share your thoughts with myself or any member of the SoG team. We would very much like to hear from you.
Please continue to pray for our Parish and Diocese that we may be guided by the Holy Spirit to meet the challenges we face.