Time for new thinking on Church responsibility

It’s time for new ways of thinking in terms of the relationship between priests and lay people in local communities. That was the central message from a recent in-service training for Parish Pastoral Councils held in Roscommon and Boyle.   Guest speaker at this year’s event was Enda Lyons DD from Tuam, an expert in adult religious education. Over one hundred and eighty Parish Pastoral Council members, representing more than twenty parishes in the diocese, participated in the in-service. Priests and laity need to embrace new ways of thinking and share responsibility for parish well-being, said Fr. Lyons. ‘There is a great need today for priests to learn the skills necessary to foster co-operation and genuine partnership with committed lay people. This is particularly challenging for priests who have never been trained or encouraged in inviting and valuing the varied and wonderful contributions lay people can make. Today the gift and abilities of parishioners must, as God intended, be recognised and called into service. Every person who has received baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion is equally and fully a member of the Church, as integral to the life of the Church as the pope, though obviously with different roles.’ Yesteryear’s model of Church, he stressed, was completely inappropriate to the modern challenge as well as being inconsistent with the will of Christ as revealed through sacred scripture. Young people in particular, he stressed, need to be provided with opportunities appropriate to their stage of development. Overseeing bodies such as Parish Pastoral Councils need to assess what is happening in parishes and seek ways whereby the whole parish can become more responsive. Fr. Lyons also emphasised the need for members of Pastoral Councils who find themselves stuck in a rut, to take time to discern their role and service to the parish community. In this context he asserted that Councils that may be failing to recognise their parish as mission territory today, need to ask themselves why they continue to meet and what meaningful purpose they serve. Passivity and the easy option of burdening priests with sole responsibility for pastoral challenges and the liturgy are not in keeping with the spirit of the gospel, said Fr. Lyons. ‘What’s needed today is a praying, thinking laity who engage and who bring their experience of life and parish and their appreciation of the challenges fellow parishioners are facing to their meetings. Councils that simply rubberstamp the view of the priest or another lay member need to question their usefulness and indeed ask themselves how valued are they.’ In his closing address, Bishop Christopher Jones said: ‘I am aware that many Parish Pastoral Councils experience times of tension and indeed frustration. Changed times are calling us to new frontiers and to a new degree of partnership. This can, at times, be painful, but such growth is also a very positive development. As you continue to build a solid and respectful partnership through your monthly meetings, do not forget that a full exercising of the gifts and talents, given you by the Holy Spirit, is essential to furthering the mission of Christ in our times.  Each of you has a unique contribution to make to further the mission of Christ. ‘Through your daily experience of family and community life, your contact with young people and people you work and socialise with, you have an awareness of what the needs of the heart are in our time. May this listening with the heart be strengthened by God’s grace so that you can offer the leadership necessary to the task of furthering the mission of Christ in your parish.’