At 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:
- Open, Welcoming Community
- Faith and Worship
- Clergy and Religious
- Lay Participation
- 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?