Mgr Paul Grogan

Mgr Paul Grogan
Mgr Paul Grogan

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Envisioning parish life anew

Part of the joy of ministering here at Leeds Trinity is that so much of the work is, properly speaking, priestly. I am often talking to people about Jesus and listening to them recount their various religious experiences. The students may find it difficult to commit to worship, but many of them are very glad that I and a few others are doing it near them. Sometimes the Chaplaincy Lounge is full and then a single student will leave his or her peers and join me and one or two others for Mass. Others will look through the glass doors of the chapel, intrigued. I intuit that students are glad that religion, and more specifically Catholicism/Christianity, continue to matter. They have become friends of a priest and a religious sister and two committed laywomen in the Chaplaincy Team. And they have found a space in which they may discuss faith with each other. These are big, important things. They constitute significant contributions to the young people's personal and spiritual development.

When I was a parish priest at St John's in Buttershaw, Bradford, I used to feel frustrated because I could not find a way to reach out to people outside the Church. I remember thinking one evening: "Am I doing anything to evangelise this area?" Of course I was: I was ministering to my parishioners and together we were a sign of God's love and mercy. But I hardly ever spoke to anybody who was not a practising Catholic (apart from at baptisms and when visiting the families of first holy communicants) or other Christian. Hundreds and hundreds of people lived on two council estates in my parish and I talked to hardly anybody in them, nor indeed to anybody in the more prosperous areas, who was not already connected with the parish in the four years that I was there.

That is why I found so interesting a talk this evening by Rev Dr Philip Knights which the Chaplaincy co-hosted with Theology and Religious Studies here at Leeds Trinity. Entitled "Local expressions of Church and the New Evangelisation: Is the Catholic Parish fit for purpose?" Dr Knights critiqued common pastoral assumptions. The most exciting thing he said, to my mind, was that the parish needs to be ordered to the task of mission if it is to fulfil its purpose. He noted a tension between two ecclesiological models: Eucharistic communion and sacrament; if the former alone is considered important the Church can become a "holy huddle" whereas in fact the Church exists to intervene in the lives of people currently outside of its visible boundaries.

The Church needs to review its life. The key question is: How can we bring people to Jesus Christ? Often this can best be done in initiatives outside of the parish. To recognise this is not to denigrate the experience of parish life; rather it is to set it in its proper context; we cannot expect parishes to do more than that of which they are capable. Fr Knights contrasted our understanding of parishes with minsters in the Anglo-Saxon church in his home area of East Anglia - these were large episcopal churches with groups of priests and religious brothers and sisters attached which had daughter churches in surrounding areas to aid the spreading of the faith. He also noted that a lot of the new energy in the Catholic Church in the west was coming from extra-parochial groups like Youth 2000 and the Neo-Catechumenal Movement.

I'm conscious that some of what I have written above will be the thoughts that this excellent lecture provoked in me rather than what he actually said verbatim. I'm sure he'll forgive me. I've just given him my best boeuf bourgignonne, courtesy of Delia. Here is Dr Knights before the lecture with one of our finest theology students, Henry.

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