Renewing the parish
In a third extract from the Working Party report, Philip North identifies ways in which the church is insufficiently prepared for the challenges of mission, and makes recommendations for addressing these problems
If lay renewal is to be effective, we believe that some initial work needs to be done with priests in an atmosphere of trust, looking at the issues involved and gently challenging some deep-seated attitudes. Fear will be near the surface, but what actually takes place when a priest lets go and empowers the laity is that his spiritual authority increases among the community he serves. Ultimately he will find he is released to be more authentically a priest. We would hope that the recommendations below would allow for a task force of priests and laypeople, voluntary and stipendiary, who could act as consultants to other clergy and parishes and so enable local churches to develop a shared vision for ministry and mission.
Lack of resources
The working party (many of whom are or have been training incumbents) expressed some concern about the unpreparedness of many ordinands for the challenges of mission and ministry in the modern age. Many seem to seem to emerge from colleges or courses trained solely for a pastoral ministry, and with little understanding of the implications of the evangelistic dimension of priesthood. We would urge those preparing ordinands for ministry to make evangelistic method a central part of the syllabus.
A constant theme for the working party was the lack of well-written, well-designed and well-marketed resources to enable the renewal of ardour. Many had turned to resources from the Church Pastoral Aid Society or the Scripture Union. While extremely useful and well produced, these lack the sacramental approach that we would desire. We strongly recommend, therefore, that the Catholic Societies work together to form something akin to a home mission agency along the lines of CPAS. In particular, we would challenge the Additional Curates Society or the Church Union to restructure itself along these lines.
The role of such an agency would be to draw alongside parishes to support them in mission and evangelism. This would be achieved by having a team of evangelists available to work with a parish over a period of time to explore issues of leadership, vision, lay development, personal renewal and outreach; and with the provision of good quality written and electronic resources for catechesis and youth and children's ministry. The minimum staffing requirement would be a director, two evangelists and a youth and children's worker. The resources for such an agency already exist.
In their report to the Catholic bishops, Evangelization in England and Wales, Philip Knights and Andrea Murray write, 'Each age of evangelization has found
appropriate techniques with which to express and share the Gospel. As people ask new questions, new ways of engaging with their faith journey must be found. New circumstances demand new forms of evangelization. This may well force us into uncomfortable areas. We may have to take risks with things that prove imperfect or unproductive.'
Once there is a new ardour to evangelize, the new methods for achieving that evangelization will flow. It is important to establish that it is in that order that things will happen. Often priests rush in to implement new evangelistic techniques which get them nowhere. The problem is that the methods have preceded the ardour. We must start with renewal and in particular with lay formation. Then the methods will emerge.
Under the new methods, we might identify two complementary broad approaches. The first is what Fresh Expressions enthusiasts rather sniffily call 'Doing traditional church well'. That means putting strategies into place in order to run an effective, growing parish. The second entails far greater risk. It involves exploring different types of church life and new forms of Christian community.
It may entail church-planting, youth congregations or cell church. It means exploring the 'uncomfortable areas' to which Knights and Murray refer.
Once there is a new ardour, the new methods will not be hard to find. There are many simple, practical steps that can be taken in a parish to encourage growth. There are also many books and resources which enable parishes to do this in far greater detail than we can here. Nonetheless, the following steps are the most important:
Liturgical renewal: The starting point for most parishes should be Sunday morning. It will mean ensuring that the worship is good, the preaching clear, the welcome warm, the childcare adequate, the literature well produced, the coffee drinkable.
Nurture courses: One of the most effective new methods of the past twenty years has been the introduction of courses such as Alpha and Emmaus. A course like that should be within the capacity of every parish to run. It will work as a maternity ward, a place where new Christians can be born. Ideally the course will be run at least once per year.
Developing the fringe: Churches grow when they are connected to the communities which they serve. Parishes need to consider ways in which they are in touch with the wider community and work there. These points of contact will be specific to each local context, but may be occasional offices, community ministry, schools, lunch clubs, mother and toddler groups, uniformed organizations, etc.
Making use of national resources and initiatives: Catholics must resist that form of apartheid which means that national evangelistic initiatives are missed. Many parishes have benefited greatly from initiatives such as 'Back to Church Sunday' and Alpha, as it has enabled them to capitalize on other people's advertising and PR. Another strategy which has been of immense benefit is the course Leading Your Church into Growth, which is run each year at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and at other venues. This explores renewal and leadership and suggests many practical steps to help traditional parishes to grow.
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