Pastoral Day of Reflection on Saturday 8th February 2020

St Francis Pastoral Area Reflection Day, Saturday 8th February 2020

– summary for St. Peter’s, Biggleswade, written by Neil Spencer

There was a great turnout from all the parishes in the St. Francis Pastoral Area (Biggleswade, Shefford, Flitwick, Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable/Houghton Regis), especially from St. Peter’s (15-20 people). Many thanks to all who were able to attend, to Bob Emmett for arranging for and driving the Ivel Sprinter, and to everyone for their prayers and other input.

Introduction to the day

Our hosts at Sacred Heart, Flitwick provided welcoming teas and coffees and Canon Bennie (President of the Pastoral Area Council) opened the day in prayer. We then watched a video of Bishop Peter outlining his vision for the future of the Diocese, needing to thrive and not just survive with fewer priests available.

Session 1

Splitting into parish groups, we looked at what we could be proud about in our parish, with a view to seeing what we could build upon for the future. We were very pleased to come up with a long list of things to be proud about, covering many aspects of parish life from spiritual to charitable to practical. A number of these could be built upon, including the successful courses of faith exploration (e.g. see the bulletin notice for the upcoming “Let It Be” course) and the valuable faith development activities for children (colouring sheets, Children’s Liturgy, First Holy Communion classes, Confirmation classes).

With all parishes back together, each shared one thing about which they were especially proud. We chose to talk about music – our parish has long had a tradition of excellent music with dedicated and talented musicians enriching our worship in a way that is unusual for a parish of our size.

Session 2

Back in parish groups, we were asked to look at what needs we had in our parish to grow our mission activities and come up with some practical first steps. At the end of the session the parishes shared their discussions and plans with each other.

Following on from our discussion in the first session, we talked about how we could improve our mission to the youth of our parish, moving from the current situation (where we have activities during Mass, for First Holy Communion each year, and for Confirmation every few years) to where we are helping our young people to develop their faith on a more regular basis, from baptism to adulthood. We decided that it would be a good idea to try and form a “Youth Ministry Team”, or similar, in some way.

We also discussed how we operate in a practical way as a parish. We have lots of people undertaking various roles, many of which are not well known to the clergy and laity. This is, on occasion, causing confusion, and we are sometimes having difficulty in operating as we would like, let alone being able to build and grow activities. The ways in which other parishes organise themselves was discussed with many having a Parish Council, Advisory Group or other body which helped the clergy and laity work together. Canon Bennie suggested that a group along these lines could be created at St. Peter’s.

Session 3

After lunch, we heard about the new “Mandated Ministry” roles being suggested by the Diocese. With fewer priests being available in coming years, it will not be possible for each parish to have a parish priest (even shared with other parishes) who can adequately look after the pastoral care of the parish on their own. Looking worldwide, we have been very lucky in this country in the past, having enough priests to look after relatively small parishes. In other countries, the laity have long taken a greater role in the pastoral care of parishes and this has led the Diocesan group set up by Bishop Peter to suggest two new roles for the laity: “Pastoral Coordinators” and “Pastoral Leaders”. Elsewhere in this country, the Archdiocese of Liverpool already has people undertaking similar roles.

The possibility of merging parishes and closing churches in the Diocese had been considered. However, it was felt that this would inevitably lead to the weakening of Catholic communities and was to be avoided if at all possible (although some very small Mass centres, served by current parishes, might be unsustainable and a number have closed in recent years).

At this stage the Diocese is still exploring how these new roles would work. One of the purposes of the Reflection Days taking place across the Diocese is to help identify what is needed in parishes and thus how these roles can be more closely defined. Both roles of “Pastoral Coordinator” and “Pastoral Leader” would be open to men and women alike and involve several years (probably three) of (part-time) training provided by the Diocese. A “Pastoral Coordinator” would probably be unpaid and would coordinate the pastoral care of a parish under the direction of a parish priest who might have responsibility for several parishes. A “Pastoral Leader” would operate under a “Priest Supervisor” who would not be the parish priest. He/she would probably be paid and would take an even greater responsibility for the pastoral care of the parish than would be expected of a “Pastoral Coordinator”.

After having these new roles explained, we met again as parish groups to discuss how they might work in our own parishes. In our discussions, there was much understandable unease about the potential weakening of the relationship between parish and parish priest, with the new roles perhaps not being able to provide the same degree of spiritual direction. However, in the eventuality of not having a parish priest located near Biggleswade, the group thought that it would be good to have someone trained and appointed by the Diocese to look after the pastoral care of the parish. It was pointed out that we have had Lay Chaplains looking after pastoral care in hospitals, prisons, schools, etc. for many years and that the Second Vatican Council allowed for the creation of positions such as these almost 60 years ago. The extension of these roles to parishes is unusual in this country but perhaps not such a great leap. Exactly how these roles would operate at St. Peter’s was a source of uncertainty, in particular the extent to which a “Pastoral Coordinator” or “Pastoral Leader” would also be involved with the practical administration of the parish. Current parish income might not be sufficient to pay for a dedicated “Pastoral Leader” but perhaps these roles could be shared between parishes. The way in which “Pastoral Coordinators” and “Pastoral Leaders” were themselves co-ordinated was an area of concern but the fact that they were to be “Mandated”/appointed by the Diocese was thought to be important. The roles also provided exciting opportunities for the laity to become more involved in pastoral work in a formal manner.

Conclusion of the Day

Following discussion of the suggested “Mandated Ministry” roles in parish groups, we joined together and each parish shared their thoughts. A question and answer session took place at which it was emphasised that this is part of a genuine consultation exercise and, as such, many of the finer details of the positions were not settled. Indeed, with Bishop Peter retiring, it was possible that Bishop Elect David Oakley might wish to advance things in a different way. However, Bishop Elect David has encouraged these Reflection Days to continue to take place and will be meeting with Pastoral Areas on 28th March 2020 at Thornton College to discuss next steps.

Canon Bennie closed the day in prayer. Many thanks must go to Catherine Davies and Avril Baigent from the Diocese who were our facilitators for the day. We were also very grateful to our hosts at the Parish of Sacred Heart, Flitwick for the efforts they made to make the day a success and for their hospitality.

At St. Peter’s we will keep the parish up to date with future developments and explore how to advance with the ideas discussed in session 2.

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