Down & Connor’s Living Church: Encouraging Lay Participation?

living churchAt the end of September, Down and Connor’s Diocesan Congress in Belfast included the launch of a ‘Pastoral Plan,’ a culmination of the efforts of the ‘Living Church’ programme over the last few years.

While I am not Catholic, my husband is, and we have watched the Living Church initiative with interest over the last few years. While there’s much to commend it, I do wish that it – and this new Pastoral Plan – included more explicit ecumenical dimensions.

The Pastoral Plan focuses on five key areas:

  1. Open, Welcoming Community
  2. Faith and Worship
  3. Clergy and Religious
  4. Lay Participation
  5. Passing on the Faith

Since the Congress, the local parish I frequent has been showing a short video at the end of Sunday Mass. Presumably the video is also being shown in other parishes, though I am aware of parishes where this is not happening.

Today’s focus was ‘lay participation,’ and in an ironic twist, the layperson who normally handles the technology was absent so the film was postponed until next week. But regardless, I think one of the more promising aspects of Living Church is its emphasis on the church as the whole people of God, taking responsibility for their own faith and for the church itself.

The Summary version of the Plan reveals that the ‘next steps’ in facilitating lay participation are:

  • In early 2014 we will present our newly formed Diocesan Pastoral Council. It will begin its work.
  • During 2014 we will support 20 parishes in developing new Parish Pastoral Councils.
  • We will provide days of development for our parish secretaries and diocesan staff.

In the full version of the Pastoral Plan, which is available on the Living Church website, there are further provisions such as:

  • Work closely with Parish Pastoral Councils to identify the training needs for developing lay ministry within parishes.
  • Begin a discernment process for the role of lay people in leading liturgies and providing chaplaincy services in the absence of a priest.

These ‘next steps’ are very much focused on the inward-workings of parishes and while that may be appropriate, especially in a context of declining vocations to the priesthood, I wonder if the Pastoral Plan is not missing a trick in encouraging laypeople to make their faith more outward focused?

During the ‘Listening Process’ (2011) that was also part of the Living Church initiative, those who attended often remarked how the Catholic Church, especially in its handling of the abuse crisis, seemed preoccupied with preserving its own institutions.

What I think the Catholic Church in Ireland doesn’t need is laypeople whose main task then becomes preserving the institution.

Can Living Church also encourage Catholics to engage in social action alongside those most marginalised in society, or explore what it means to live out their faith in partnership with Christians of other traditions and people of other religions?

2 Responses to Down & Connor’s Living Church: Encouraging Lay Participation?

  1. Rosemary McCloskey October 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    If our own house is in good order we would feel more confident in opening it to others.
    There is always a welcome for others in our parish and parish centre and those who come there know that. The question is how many of other faiths will come to us?
    We do the reaching out very often but our visits are seldom reciprocated. Take Clonard as an example. I heard someone say that the cross community initiatives always start from there towards the Shankill Road and I know that there are very good folk who join in, but will these same people start off the gatherings and come along to Clonard? It appears that they will not.
    Perhaps this is a reality peculiar to this neck of the woods. I lived in a town in the Midlands of England and discovered after Mass one Saturday morning that all those who had been at Mass were at the coffee morning in the local Methodist church. They were happy to socialise and attend social events together BUT I don’t think I saw Methodists or others non Catholics at any of our Catholic church services.
    Perhaps there is more than religion in the equation here. There is also the added dimension of two cultures and politics and how to surmount all of that is another agenda that needs to be addressed.
    Our Catholic Church is Universal by definition and the Jesus asked the Father that we might all be one. Who dissented from the Catholic faith and what is the history of the origins and growth of those other Christian churches? Food for thought methinks?

    We need to get to know one another and build relationships of friendship, trust and service. Only then will our society become transformed and grow towards unity and peace in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

  2. Theresa October 21, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    I do think fear has a lot to do with the problems in Northern Ireland. So many are afraid of diverse cultures. If only everyone had the belief, being different from your neighbour and accepting this will solve so many problems. Fear is never going to create a solution. In many many countries different faiths and cultures live hand in hand and learn so much from each other. why is there such fear in Northern Ireland ? Why can everyone not see how beautiful our wee place is, if only we remember – we all have one head, two arms legs, ears, and eyes. How do we get one and all to see this. the politicians are not going to solve this, we who are all in Noah’s Ark are the only ones to make the changes. What would happen if today there was a Noah’s Ark ????? How long would it take for the first conflict to begin ???? If we were all told we had one year to solve our differences or Northern Ireland would hit by a massive tornado which would wipe each and everyone of us away. We would all die and Northern Ireland would cease to exist. Could we ? Would we ? all reach out and understand what is important to save this tiny piece of land and more importantly save our children and their future ?????? Would this make us understand the fear in Northern Ireland is solvable in the face of a bigger fear ???? I understand this is very unlikely but WHAT IF ????

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