Summary of our Meetings & Response.
The Diocesan Listening Process Report (available for download at cashel-emly.ie) was presented to the Parish Representatives at a meeting in Holycross last April. Each parish was asked to discuss the Report, consider its implications, and respond to four key questions. Below are the questions, and the responses which emerged from our own parish discussions.
Question 1: What is your general response to the Report?
We held two meetings initially to discuss and reflect on the Report and have met again recently. As a parish, we are lucky in so far as we have a working group in place for some time. This made it relatively easy for us to have had a considered and open response to the report. By the way, that is not to say we agree on everything – in fact we debate issues quite trenchantly at times. The underlying strength however is that we have negotiated ways of listening to each other and that has allowed trust to be built-up between our priests and ourselves. Ideas are formulated and grow with time and sharing.
We all recognise the need for change, so mutual trust and respect is vital – it requires being able to relinquish power on the one hand and accepting responsibility on the other. Our role in the Church has to be a shared one, not just one of one side being the dominant giver and holding all the power and answers and the other a passive receiver. And to be honest, that is still how it is perceived by very many people. Change is seldom easy. So the listening process, from parish to diocese has been an opportunity to think.
General: Report quite detailed and well presented. The inclusion of quotes makes for interesting reading.
Age Profile: All age groups were not represented equally. The age profile is weighted heavily in favour of the over 45 year olds. Three of the age profiles are poorly represented – 19-25, 26-35 and 36-45. So we are proceeding with very little input from the 19-45 year olds. This is of concern. This group still identify strongly with Parish and are the driving force of parish activity in sport, community events, teams, training and fund-raising.
Questions asked at the the parish ‘Listening Nights’: While accepting that one must start somewhere it was felt that these questions were leading and the focus was quite narrow. As a first bringing together for many who attended, the questions were at variance with their pre-conceived ideas, and as a result, it took time to focus on the questions. As the time allowed for each section was short, it probably did not give as rich an insight as it might have done. This related particularly to question 5.
Questions 2, 3 & 4 related to ‘Faith’. The guidelines given on the listening night were that there would be feedback on questions 1-4 but none on question 5. Question 5 was ‘If there are any other comments/suggestions/feedback which you would like to add’. Time allocated to this question was minimal. Most people had come to share their views about a broad range of issues. The time constraints meant that question 5 could not be dealt with adequately.
Analysis produced: The analysis produced as seen in the Pie-Chart on P. 7 seems to be at variance with the questions being responded to: e.g., the topic of ‘faith’ only mentioned by 19% when it formed the central focus of question 2, 3 and 4. Men did not feature in the analysis and women as a topic featured at 4%.
Question 2: How can we as a parish, use this discussion document to inform and guide us in planning and action – next immediate steps.
Our response to this question has two main strands:
1 Improving faith formation and practices within the Church.
2 Reaching out in today’s world.
Improving faith formation and practices within the Church.
— Adult faith education needs to be part of Church/faith experience. We must be prepared to re-inform, re-evangelise, re-educate ourselves on an ongoing basis. For example, our understanding of the importance of the Eucharist and the Mass, philosophical and theological questions underpinning belief and practice and our place in the world. We think that some of these topics could be done between parishes. Rather than just a lecture format, it may be more rewarding to have discussion and exchange of ideas. Having a speaker such as Michael Kelly, or an author like Colm Keane. We are pleased to see that there will be in-service training provided from November as facilitation training is important.
— At parish level a suggestion has been made that at the end of Mass once a month, congregation could be asked if they would stay behind for 15 minutes and a topic aired on a tenet of faith or issue of concern discussed.
— Greater lay participation in the Mass for those who are attending. Suggestions include: Prayers of the Faithful should be that – the faithful lead them and also deliver Reflection after Communion.
— At ordinary Sunday Masses or if they are anniversary Masses, members of the congregation, family members or neighbours bring up the Gifts.
— Also, at our annual cemetery Mass on the 15th August, roles were allocated to families who had been bereaved during the past year – this included having a sung Responsorial Psalm, Prayers of the Faithful, Presentation of Gifts, a Communion Reflection. The response was positive, families were delighted to be asked and all agreed to participate. The feedback afterwards was hugely positive. This took a bit of work but the reaction made it worthwhile.
— On Holy Thursday night, (if not already in place), have a Holy Hour following service, let the laity lead sections. Allocate more roles/ organising roots etc. to laity. Think of other events which could be carried out by laity in planning for future needs. The laity also need to buy into this.
Reaching out in today’s world.
— How can we best hand on the faith in the world in which we live: e.g., dealing with indifference, media animosity etc. – can we engage with parishioners who are active in every other aspect of parish life to understand their thinking and needs.
— We think faith needs to be enlighted as in the first part of our response and use modern methods of communication.
— Jesus used the story approach, as did the late Billy Graham in his time, so what tools and practices do we have – social media etc.
— Do we consider mindfulness, having dedicated youth animators, bereavement counsellors, parish or diocesan websites? WhatsApp groups are a big means of communication.
— Will children engage and respond to Bible Stories, through role-play, dramatized liturgy facilitated by parents or others to help their faith formation.
— In our parish, special Masses are popular.
— Nature walks would show the beauty of creation and link to protecting the environment.
— The prevailing attitude of the significant percentage of people who are currently using the Church on an ad-hoc basis, with the occasional attendance only for special occasions. Make these occasions a good experience. Is this the church of the future? Think outside the box for community events – plan events around places within parish, pilgrim walks, from Mass Rock to Church, perhaps on Good Friday, stop for a station or some short reflections on the way.
Question 3: How can we as a diocese use this discussion document to inform and guide us in planning and action – next immediate steps?
— People are responding and concerned – listen to the response.
— To live is to change – change must come from each of us.
— Is the institutional church really prepared to pay more than lip-service to this and accept that the laity are as much of the Church community as clergy, hierarchy? A change of mind-set at all levels is required – at times it seems as if the Church structure is at odds with itself – that factions within are vying for power/influence. Pope Francis is experiencing this too.
— Acceptance that power loss and power sharing is a frightening, but necessary, concept to embrace. Many priests, and this is certainly not unique to priests, even more so in today’s world, have never listened to anyone only themselves – they had a captive audience. Our church needs to be a place of welcome, warmth and a collaboration of Laity and Priests.
— Shared responsibility and decision making with parish groups: e.g., Pastoral Group, Baptismal Group or Committee.
— Faith Formation Group.
— Sharing ideas and plans and speakers with neighbouring parishes.
Question 4: What might be needed to support these steps?
— We need Prayers, we need the Holy Spirit to work within us and guide us. We need our Blessed Mother to help us
— Put in place a training plan and resource it to upskill lay people in future sharing/partnership roles.
— Look at parishes in other Dioceses who are already doing this.
— It will take both confidence and willingness on all sides to achieve the objective you set. We need openness, courage and commitment from the faithful/laity/priests. It will take quite a bit of work and time to bring laity to the stage where they will be willing to play a meaningful role.
— How viable are the Parish finances going forward with ¼, 1/3, ½ or maybe more contributing little to the on-going costs of running a parish?