Details of parish clusters in the Diocese of Elphin were published this week. The clusters are made necessary by the fact that the number of priests serving in the diocese has dropped by 30 percent since 2000 and a further 40 percent decrease is expected in the next five years. During June 2006 Bishop Jones called for a re-scheduling of Sunday Mass times so that priests could accommodate neighbouring parishes when priests are on sick leave or on holiday. Many parishes responded positively for the summer months. Last November the lion’s share of the diocese’s annual in-service for clergy focussed on the topic of clustering of parishes. The topic was revisited at the Elphin Diocesan AGM in January and has been the subject of a number of priests’ meetings in each deanery since the AGM. It is also on the agenda of the diocese’s Pastoral Council which is likely to initiate discussions with Parish Pastoral Councils in autumn. The Elphin priests met again with Bishop Jones in The Abbey Hotel Roscommon on Tuesday May 29th for further input, discussion and deliberation. They concluded this meeting by dividing the diocese’s thirty-eight parishes into eleven tentative groupings. The priests of each grouping have also committed to having a series of meetings from September onwards to discuss how best to work together. It is anticipated that these meetings will accede to Bishop Jones’ call for a re-scheduling of Mass times in parishes that have not revised their time-table and address issues such as shared training for future Special Ministers of the Eucharist and Ministers of the Word, planning of faith-related activities for young people and programmes of on-going formation for bodies such as Parish Pastoral Councils. Commenting on this development Bishop Jones said, ‘Our discussions over the past year have been very positive and constructive. The more we reflected together, the more we could perceive the future benefits of team ministry to priests and parishes. More specifically I welcome the fact that it will involve priests meeting more frequently and of caring more concretely for each other as we become fewer.’ Fr. Michael Breslin (Kilgefin), chairperson of the Elphin diocese’s Priests’ Council also expressed satisfaction with developments but stressed it was still early days. Like Bishop Jones he welcomed the fact that priests of neighbouring parishes would meet more frequently for mutual support and shared planning. Priests are also stressing that these are tentative groupings and that all are open to revision. They are hopeful however that the principle of grouping parishes will be accepted throughout the diocese and lead to a maximising of resources. In particular they are conscious of the advantages of bringing the particular giftedness of certain parishioners and priests as organisers, youth volunteers etc. into the service of all parishes in a particular grouping. They also look forward to developments that have come about in other dioceses that have established clusters, i.e. fuller Churches and more energising Masses on Sundays.