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Father Peter Wade, Dean, then led those gathered in a version of evening prayer, including the Prayer for the Synod. Linda Heaver, from Lincoln Deanery, welcomed everyone to the meeting, and then outlined the purposes of the evening: • Explanation – difficult decisions have been made, different avenues have been explored; • Exploration – these explanations have been given – how can we make these work? • Expectation – what will happen next, how will we make this happen, what are the next steps? Linda also indicated that although questions raised might not be answered tonight, everything raised would be recorded, and time would be given after the formal part of the evening for individual questions to be raised. Bishop Patrick then outlined the current situation in our diocese with reference to statistics: • In 1985 o Mass attendance in our diocese was 50,391; o we had 145 active priests; o we had 158 Churches in which Sunday Mass was celebrated; o we had 24 students for the priesthood in major seminary, 2 in pre-seminary and 8 in Junior Seminary. • In 2015 o Mass attendance was 29,848 (a reduction of 41%); o we had 92 active priests (a reduction of 37%); o we had 156 Churches in which Sunday Mass was celebrated (a reduction of just 1%); o we had 8 students in major seminary, 1 in pre-seminary, and 13 training for the Permanent Diaconate which has proved to be a very helpful ministry across the diocese. So over that period of 30 years this diocese experienced an average 39% reduction in both priests and parishioners; but only a 1% reduction in the number of churches. That’s the position, pre-covid. Let’s now take a look statistically at the impact covid has had on our diocese. • In 2021 o Mass attendance last October was 17,468 (a reduction of 65% since 1985); o we had 85 active priests (a reduction of 41% from 1985); o we had 140 Churches in which Sunday Mass was celebrated (a reduction of 11% since 1985); o we had 1 student in major seminary, 1 in pre-seminary (a reduction of 94% since 1985); o and 3 training for the Permanent Diaconate (a reduction of 77% since 2015). The covid pandemic has fast-forwarded the decline in our diocesan statistics, but the number of churches hasn’t declined in the way the numbers of parishioners and priests have. We can’t continue in this vein of having so many buildings which are used for only a short period of time each week. In some cases we’ll have to take the painful decision to close some churches, and we are all, bishop and people, aware of the pain of these decisions. What we keep has to best serve Christ’s mission in our diocese. We are all part of Christ’s Church, and Christ will always lead us forward. For our part we must continue our reorganisation of deaneries, to be better equipped in Christ’s mission. After a two-year covid period we now have to move forward again. Page 3 The average age of priests in our diocese is 63 years. Priests are feeling the increasing administrative burden, which doesn’t present a good picture for the future. A clear roadmap has been asked for, and one which shows us all the way forward, giving a way forward in co-responsibility between clergy and laity. There are green shoots, such as young men expressing a desire to consider priesthood, but this can take a couple of years of discernment, and then some (maybe seven) years in formation. Our schools have 30,000 pupils and students in them, embracing the three pastoral themes in the diocese: encounter, discipleship, and missionary discipleship. Young people, helped by the growing number of chapels and lay chaplains in our schools, need to be channelled into the future of our Church. The laity in our diocese have many gifts and talents, but these aren’t always brought into the best service for Christ’s mission. The Curia are working to assist the laity, as are the worldwide organisation Divine Renovation, transforming from maintenance to mission mode. This helps us to embrace the three pastoral priorities in our diocese: to help children and young people to encounter God’s love and to become active disciples of Christ Jesus in the life and mission of the Church; to offer support and formation to parishioners to enable them to be confident agents of missionary discipleship, both within their parish and wider society; and thirdly, ongoing support for our clergy to free them up to be pastors, leaders and enablers of mission. Will this discussion tonight lead to anything? Yes. There is a pledge tonight to make decisions which will help to make disciples in the Church of the future. It won’t be easy, but we can all help to transform out diocese. Feedback from the tables • There is a reduction in the number of people attending Mass, and the priests are getting older; some of the pairings of parishes are a surprise, and what is happening in schools doesn’t necessarily feed into the parish setting. • Not all priests felt were consulted during the covid pandemic. • The average age is old in the room tonight; where are those with families, etc? • Not many surprises are being heard, but there is a question about why the congregation is falling at the rate it is. • Such initiatives have happened in the past, with little result. • The figures show a catastrophic decline, not a mild reduction. Does this show an eradication of faith in the country? • Perhaps this is a turning point, with the Holy Spirit showing us that we should be caring for others. • What do we think the figures suggest in terms of a final point? • Feedback (minutes) will be given after the meeting, and consideration will be undertaken once all the roadshows have been completed. Further discussions are very much encouraged to be held in the parishes and in the deanery after this evening’s meeting. Canon Joe Wheat, Vicar General, outlined the process so far, talking back to the Diocesan Assembly in 2003, and You Are Living Stones from 2011. In this specific deanery much work has been done already in bringing parishes together into new groupings. There is a desire to create outward looking communities, to reorient the expectation that there is a way of working which allows us all to be more missionary, rather than simply maintaining what we have at the moment. Page 4 Canon Eddy Jarosz, Vicar General, outlined the new groupings for the deanery, noting that much of the clustering has already happened in this deanery, although there are still separate parishes within the deanery, and so separate pastoral council, bank accounts, etc. These new clusters will also have responsibility to work with existing areas of pastoral care and mission. How can the funds released from the buildings which are being disposed of be best used for mission? What other elements should be taken into consideration? The clusters will be: Parish Priests (now / future) Deacons Primary Schools Secondary Schools Holy Cross, Whitwick Saint Wilfrid of York, Coalville 2 / 1 Holy Cross St Clare Our Lady of the Angels, East Leake Saint Winefride, Shepshed 1.5 / 1 St Winefride Our Lady of Mercy and Saint Philip Neri, Melbourne Risen Lord, Castle Donington Our Lady of Lourdes, Ashby-de-laZouch 2 / 1 Andrew Martin St Charles Sacred Heart of Jesus, Loughborough Saint Gregory, Sileby 1 / 1 Sacred Heart Ratcliffe College Saint Mary of the Annunciation, Loughborough 1 / 1 (Religious) Chris Stevens (university) St Mary Amherst De Lisle Other Places of Worship • Our Lady of Czestochowa, Melton Mowbray (with a resident Polish priest) Religious Communities • Cistercian Monastery, Mount Saint Bernard Abbey • Sisters of Providence, Loughborough Chaplaincies • Loughborough University • Coalville Community Hospital • Mill Lodge Mental Health Unit, Kegworth • Loughborough Hospital Closure • Saint Charles Borromeo, Measham Page 5 Feedback from the tables • Are the proposals definitive, or could other options be suggested? Provided alternatives can be provided which are possible / feasible then they will be considered. • What is the basis for the groupings? It’s not based on numbers attending Mass, nor on finances, but the provision of schools can be significant. • What is the reason for Sacred Heart, Loughborough, being joined outside Loughborough (Sileby) and not with Saint Mary’s parish, Loughborough? • What is the timescale for some of these changes? Some clustering is already happening through the locality of parishioners. • Shepshed wouldn’t be likely to be amalgamated with Whitwick and Coalville because it would lead to three primary schools in this clustering. • There has been a lot of talk for many years; is there a timetable behind this? The timeline will be determined with the Vicar General during discussions over the Eastertide period. The changes will happen as soon as is possible. • Will input about administrative support from the curia be given soon? Yes, this evening. • In view of the impending retirement of Father Michael Eastwood will the timeline for Shepshed be shorter than in other places? The timeline will be spoken about more towards the end of the evening. • There is a desire that parishes in the future will have multiple churches, and that these proposals for parish amalgamation will lead to only a few church closures. • There will be a gradual combining of parish pastoral councils, parish finance committees, etc, as the natural coming-together of clusters becomes a reality. • A timeline would be helpful now, although not one which is imposed, but rather one which is determined in consultation. From tonight’s meeting there will be further discussions between the parishes sin each unique grouping, with a further meeting in Eastertide (with the Vicar General) to make a specific decision about the timeline. Page 6 • The next phase of this project will be to determine how we can be more missionary across the diocese, having stronger parish groupings following this current exercise. • Is there a success criteria for this project? Canon Paul Chipchase, Episcopal Vicar for Finance and Administration, explained the role of the diocesan curia, a full range of skills and expertise to support mission in our diocese, through parishes, school, and other communities. The curia, from the Latin, ‘cares’ for people, for business situations, for agencies in the diocese, etc. The curia’s aim is to take burdens off people in the parishes, especially where these don’t need to be undertaken by those currently so doing: for example, assisting with financial issues, or building matters. We live in a world which is very much more regulated than in the past, and expertise is not always available at the local level, but can be provided by the curia. Sometimes there’s a direct mission input, sometimes it’s working through those who are in the parishes, schools and communities. The key focus is to assist mission but with an eye to compliance, and ensuring everything is legal. A new booklet, ‘Meet the Curia’, has been produced this year, with copies available this evening. The curia exists not to control, but to allow subsidiarity, with decisions being made at the lowest possible level, at the local level. However, to be more mission-focused there needs to be a shift in focus from bricks and mortar, to people, noting that funding is always necessary, and an ‘enabling mission fund’ has been recently established. There is a desire to enable all parishes to have all the resources they need, even when this might mean a degree of ‘levelling up’ to take place. David Lawes, the Diocesan Chief Operating Officer, began with explaining that the Curia wishes to support parish and deanery pastoral plans. We might have too many churches, but we are not here to manage decline. We want transformation, not rationalisation. We have a very good curial team, but it is a small team, and so might not be able to meet every challenge faced by every parish immediately: a development of capacity is being developed. Parishes need to be reorganised to be effective, they have to be good stewards of finances and property, and have the support to be truly missionary. This can be assisted by the establishment of deanery cluster administration centres, to relieve some of the administrative burden at parish level. The disposal of surplus property can be advised upon, the employment of project management support is another element of assistance, and an awareness of statistical trends can be helpful to communicate. A desire to alleviate administrative burdens at the local level is another priority, since this isn’t a missionary activity, although does have to be undertaken. Common, on-line systems are being developed (such as finance), alongside internal and external expertise for areas such as property, IT, and other specialist elements. Working with young people (such as the very promising young adults group, and the National Schools’ Singing Project) are areas in which the curia offers direct assistance. Ways of catechising parents and families is another area in which the curia seeks to offer assistance, so that parishes can be rebuilt postpandemic. Clergy are being assisted to be leaders and facilitators of mission. The curia is here to assist. Feedback • The slides would have been helpful to have in advance, in order to make notes. • Will the slides and speaking notes be available after the meeting? Page 7 • What would an administration centre look like? There is no blueprint yet, but it could depend on the local needs of the parish cluster. An example of this would be the parish office for Holy Family, East Nottingham. Bishop Patrick addressed the meeting, noting that this is step one in the journey, and thanked everyone present for their openness in the meeting. Notes from the meeting will be made available via the Dean; please ensure that these notes are shared far and wide within each parish, sharing with those not present what you’ve seen and heard. The crucial question now is ‘what do we do next to make this work’? During Eastertime a visit to the deanery will be made by the Vicar General, Canon Eddy, to see what progress has been made towards making this work. Timelines will be discussed and all viable options considered. The emphasis is on everyone in each parish, not just those present tonight. We need to present this not in a negative way, but in an honest way. The reason for all of this is to be more missionary, more outward focussed, and more active in our faith. The bishop ended with a reading from Saint Paul’s prayer to the young Church in Ephesus: the breadth and the length, the height and the depth of God’s love for us, which is beyond all knowledge. Glory be to Him, whose power is at work in us, for ever and ever.