Mapping the future in Galloway
A meeting of parish pastoral council representatives offered a snapshot of the way in which lay people are taking responsibility for the church’s life and mission in Dumfries and Galloway.
On a warm summer Saturday at the end of June, a group of around 30 people from parishes across the Diocese of Galloway gathered in St Andrew’s and St Cuthbert’s church in Kirkudbright. They were members of parish pastoral councils from St Andrew’s deanery, which covers all of Dumfries and Galloway, and had come to share what they had done since they met a year ago, and to discuss priorities for the year ahead.
They began with a period of silent prayer in the church before the Blessed Sacrament. Two sheets of paper were distributed for those who might find them an aid to prayer. One was a copy of a sermon preached on the feast of Corpus Christi by Fr Joe Boland of St Bride’s, East Kilbride, on the diocesan wide programme called Embracing Change, which seeks to build a new church for a new age. The other was an extract from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, which reflects on the church’s primary mission of evangelization in the modern world.
Embracing change, Fr Boland said in his homily, is about changing the way we think about the church and our place in it. The key to this is our understanding of baptism. Vatican II had retrieved the true meaning of baptism after a long period during which the sacrament of Holy Orders had taken its place and created a clerically driven church in which lay people had become spectators rather than participants. We are all called to become signs of God’s love in the world and play a part in shaping the future of the church.
The process of building a new church for a new age of dwindling congregations and fewer priests is quietly being mapped out in Galloway. Notes from a deanery meeting of 2014 record that signs of decline are understood as ‘a radical new opportunity for a renewal and regeneration of the church in Galloway’. The fall in the number of ordained clergy has ‘opened up new space for each baptised person to share a greater responsibility for the overall mission and wellbeing of the church’.
As the period of prayer ended and people moved to the church hall, the process of sharing responsibility emerged from the experiences they described. Services of the Word led by different members of the community. Prayer vigils. Interchurch community outreach. Parishioners trained to take funeral services. Making church halls more child friendly. Reconciliation services organised after Mass so that people could reduce the number of often lengthy journeys to church. Closer working between parishes. Talks on Pope Francis’ teaching. Easter Triduum liturgies led by lay people (see Open House May 2017).
Challenges were also shared. Concern about the small number of children at church. Complacency where people had a resident priest. Communication with young people. How to build more community outreach and ecumenical sharing.
The meeting was chaired by the dean, Fr Willie McFadden and attended by Bishop Bill Nolan and Fr Gerry Donnelly of St Andrews, Dumfries, and St Columba’s, Annan. Although Dumfries still had a parish priest and a large congregation, he said it was good to hear what was possible.
Bishop Nolan listened carefully to all that had been shared and offered a closing reflection from The Joy of the Gospel. He stressed that the parish did not exist to cater for the needs of parishioners, but to evangelise the community. Embracing change focussed on the need for services and structures to make this possible. He commended the outreach to the poor which had been shared. He acknowledged the confusion that often accompanies times of change. He highlighted the importance of dialogue and suggested that the need to move together might slow the process down. Embracing change, he said, meant that we had to ‘get out of our comfort zone’. He posed a final question to the participants: what are they going to do this year to get the good news of the gospel out into their communities?
Mary Cullen is editor of Open House.
Fr Joe Boland, whose talk to the Glasgow Newman Circle was reported in the last edition of Open House, has made his homilies available online. You can read them at www.stbrideschurch.co.uk
Open House is planning a major conference on the future of the church in Scotland for next June. More details in the next edition.