A Message From the Archbishop

Article from The Sower magazine Advent 2019

You may know that I have been Archbishop for nearly 10 years now. It seems a good time to reflect and then to look to the future.

We have a mandate given to us by Our Lord to spread the good news and serve and grow the faith for the coming decade and beyond.

Pope Francis is encouraging us to do something new to help us achieve this.

In Evangelii Gaudium he encourages us, the Christian faithful, “to embark upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by this joy [of the Gospel] while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

Pope Francis urged the entire Church "to embark on a new chapter of evangelism". The Church must understand itself as a "community of missionary disciples", who are "permanently in a state of mission". He says that “’mere administration’ can no longer be enough.”

Unfolding God's Plan

I have started the process of engaging with the clergy, Religious and lay faithful - calling this process Towards a Diocesan Vision: Unfolding God's Plan. When I look ahead, I envisage a Catholic diocese which is:

·        Faithful to the mission entrusted to us by Jesus Christ

·        Full of intentional disciples in vibrant communities of faith, joyful in their service of God and others

·        Where many more lay people are engaged in collaborative ministry

How can it happen and what will that look like given the challenges we face? 

I envisage parishes being grouped perhaps under fewer deaneries and fewer priests.  Maybe in a deanery with 10 priests, there might be 100 lay people fully engaged in collaborative ministry.

This means working in a different way, with far more people being personally involved in the ministry of our parishes.

Four themes

Upon reflection, I am proposing four themes that are the pillars on which rests the core work of the Archdiocese and its parishes. As we undertake this work of renewal of the Church we need to ask: how do we plan for the future so that our parishes are flexible and capable of self-renewal in order to evangelise, form its parishioners and serve others in their local community?

How can we work differently, more collaboratively with laity taking on more, and in greater depth?  Looking at the four themes helps us see where we need to go.

Evangelisation   This is an imperative that emerges from catholicity.  The primary function of the Church is to be all-embracing with the truth of the Gospel, to evangelise.  Pope St Paul VI reminds us that this is the Church’s essential mission and the new evangelisation directs us especially to those groups of the baptised who have lost a living sense of the faith. 

Formation   Fidelity to the apostolic tradition leads to an emphasis on formation for the laity and for the clergy.  In the Archdiocese we are very blessed to have the presence and work of the Maryvale Institute.  How can our parishes help us to shape what Maryvale offers in the future?

Worship & Sacramental Life – The Sacraments are given to us by God, not invented by us.  In the Eucharist we have a Sacrament that is both ‘source and summit of the Christian life’ (LG 11) and its importance should be revealed by the manner in which we celebrate it. That these Sacraments are celebrated with joy and reverence is vital.  These are signs that we are welcoming God’s grace, responding to it and willing to be sent, to bring it to others.

Charity and Social Outreach   Caritas is in the very nature of what it is to be Church, as one (in solidarity), holy (God is Caritas) catholic (seeking the common good of all) and apostolic (sent to set captives free). The catechism (1889) describes charity as the greatest social commandment. It is God’s work, a clear priority in the ministry of Jesus and therefore central to the life of all his disciples too.  So how can we respond effectively to Jesus’s command to feed, clothe and visit ‘the least of these’?

This is also an important way to look at evangelisation. There must be a desire to invite people from within the church community to play a more active role and to do this we must ensure that the Gospel is something that is seen as compelling, not compulsory.

Young people and families

In our work on the four themes it is important that young people and families are a particular area of focus for all that we do. The universal call to holiness finds its first expression within families and its first recruits among young people. Catholic education and our diocesan youth services play an important role in serving families and young people.  The links between the family, the parish and the school are vital to ensure that the faith is handed on. 

Schools, for instance, have an important role in engaging with families and encouraging them to be involved in their parishes more.  Equally though, we must look at ways to reach out to people outside the church community. Good examples of this including working with other people of goodwill to provide night shelter or support for refugees, where we can influence people in an unspoken way.

Or through initiatives such as Nightfever, which is being run in places like Oxford and Stourbridge, and through the youth service based at Alton Castle.

Questions for you

We have created a resource group - comprising of lay people and some clergy, to look at the resources we can pool for you and your parishes, to support the conversations you have in your parishes as we move from maintenance to mission, as Christ compels us.

The next step is to engage with the parishes.

I ask you now: do you recognise these as the priorities for your parish and deanery? Is there something that is missing?

Reflect on these four pillars - what challenge does God give you personally?

We are all called to be missionary disciples. I invite you to consider what you could do differently, no matter how small a difference it would make.

What would make you engage in a way you haven’t before? What could we do as an Archdiocese? What could you do to keep faith alive in you and in others?

We will keep having conversations with parishes but this will not be a quick process - this is a large and wonderfully diverse Archdiocese. We must get it right and know that we can move forward confidently on our new paths. We are starting, with a small number of deaneries, to explore the ways we can fulfil those four priorities and build stronger missionary communities.

A prayer for the Vision

Please join us in prayer as we all discern our part in unfolding God’s plan.

Lord God,

Creator of the world and author of all that is good,

we seek your guidance and inspiration as a Diocesan family.

Give us missionary zeal in the renewal of our parish communities.

May the gifts of your Holy Spirit be the source of all formation.

May our closeness to your Son Jesus, in prayer, in Scripture and in the Sacraments make us convincing heralds of the Good News.

Bless our homes, families and schools with knowledge of your constant and compassionate presence.

As you shape our lives from the moment of our baptism, keep before our eyes the needs of our neighbour, and encourage us to know that your Kingdom is promised first to those who know their need for you, the ones Whom your Son chooses and calls by name.

We make our prayer through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception: Pray for us

St Chad: Pray for us

St John Henry Newman: Pray for us

Blessed Dominic Barberi: Pray for us

Texts to read

You may also find it useful to review some texts and resources which aim to strengthen and renew our faith community:

Evangelii Gaudium: Apostlic Exhortation on the church's primary mission of evangelization in the modern world – Pope Francis  

Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish- Fr James Mallon

Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter – Michael White

Forming Intentional Disciples: The path to knowing and loving Jesus - Sherry Weddell

Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples - Sherry Weddell

Fruitful Discipleship: Living the Mission of Jesus in the Church and in the world - Sherry Weddell