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Challenges, Joys and Commitments

Put out into the deep (Copy)In the April edition of Hallam News, Bishop Ralph stated that something radical is needed to address the demands of a changing Church in a changing world. Drawing on the work of Cardinal Walter Kasper, he suggested that a combination of “centres of liturgical excellence and missionary zeal” and self-reliant base communities was a model worth further consideration.

Liturgical excellence and missionary zeal in this changing world have been given attention in the Hallam News recently: Fr Peter Mc Guire’s article on “Liturgy in the Absence of a Priest” last month, and Deacon Andrew Crowley’s piece in this issue on Proclaim 15 (page 4). Both of these recognise the need for effective formation of mature Christians in a diversity of ministries making use of a variety of gifts.

What then can we say about the worshipping communities at the heart of both liturgy and mission? How will they be equipped for new challenges?  Practically, what can be done in terms of lay formation for mission, ministries and leadership as well as for ongoing growth in the faith which is the right and duty of every Christian?

The question is not new. The Second Vatican Council recognised that the mission of the laity ‘can attain maximum effectiveness only through a diversified and thorough formation’.  This insight was reinforced and developed in a string of documents from Popes, Vatican departments and Bishops’ Conferences.  You can find an excellent summary of these developments in the report issued by the Bishops of England and Wales: The Priority of Adult Formation (available to download from the diocesan website).

Some of the themes which come out from half a century of reflection on this issue are:

1)      The need for lifelong learning and the development of a mature faith.  “For catechesis to be effective, it must be permanent, and it would be quite useless if it stopped short just at the threshold of maturity” (St. John Paul II).  The bishops add, “Many adults feel that their own formation effectively ended as children.  Some remain unaware of the need for ongoing formation.”

2)      Mutual co-operation between the members of the faithful is essential for mission.  Diverse ministries (lay and ordained) need to collaborate to proclaim the Gospel and show God’s love.  There is an ordered communion of ministries and gifts.

3)      Adult formation (lay and ordained) requires ongoing resources commitments and prioritisation: “the formation of the lay faithful must be placed among the priorities of a diocese” (St John Paul II).  The bishops of England and Wales affirmed “There can be no priority more urgent.”

Hallam has always taken this task very seriously; the first adult education director was in post just three years after the diocese was created. Since then, hundreds have completed national and diocesan certificates; many more have attended diocesan and deanery events; and over thirty obtained an MA in theology.

In the changing church and changing world to which Bishop Ralph referred, we have reviewed and relaunched adult formation activities in the diocese. There will doubtless be more to come as we respond to the emerging demands for missional, liturgical and pastoral formation.

So what are we doing now, and what are the plans for the future?

Firstly, there is a desire to develop a familiarity with the scriptures and with Church teaching. This can be thought of as a foundation for faith, or as the roots of our Catholic identity, but is perhaps best seen as a return, to the source of living water, “ad fontes” which we encounter in Scripture and Tradition.

As part of the relaunch of adult formation activities in the diocese, we will be starting a new programme in September. “Emmaus – a journey through the Christian scriptures and the Teachings of the Catholic Church”.  This is an invitation to all adult Catholics to journey together in reading the bible and studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Taking an unrushed journey through these texts is an opportunity to hear the voice of Jesus in the scriptures and in tradition.  The course will run in a number of sites spread around the diocese over a four year period.

The second area is the formation for ministries and mission. This area is where we may have to develop the most, as the diocese discerns the ministries and formation needed to engage in evangelisation and worship in the 21st century.  Nonetheless, some activities are already underway.

Fr John Ryan 2 (Copy)An ongoing programme of Parish Ministry Days, led by Mgr John Ryan has been well-received across the Diocese. These days are held for each deanery and provide a time of prayer, reflection, study and community for readers, extraordinary ministers of communion and catechists.  This will continue in 2016, and we will also look at providing more focussed training for the specific roles.

Greg Ryan is working with the Proclaim 15 initiative to develop suitable formation for mission. In providing resources for ministries, we also need to look at what has already been done in those parishes and deaneries which already have good practice in place.

Thirdly, there are course and talks to study in-depth both theology and practical application: “faith seeking understanding”. This includes formal study and public talks, such as the popular Lent talks this year on the Passion in the Four Gospels.  It also involves working together with groups putting theology into practice, such as the Justice and Peace commission.

The core programme here is the Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies (CCRS). This is a nationally recognised course designed to give an understanding of basic Christian theology which can be studied over 2-5 years.  It is particularly recommended for teachers and catechists, but is perfect for anyone wanting an introduction to studying of the faith using the resources of theology.  The CCRS is recommended or required for leadership positions in Catholic schools: perhaps it could be part of a common training for anyone involved in lay leadership in the diocese in future?  The 2016 course is now open for registration.

Looking ahead, in addition to this kind of formal course, there seems to be space for contextual, practical theology arising out of the lived experiences of the faithful. As with base communities, there may be much to learn from Latin America and Asia here.

A mature adult faith needs space for asking questions and exploring as well as learning through structured talks and courses, so we will be piloting an informal theological discussion group in Sheffield later this year, which could be a pattern reused elsewhere. A similar reading group for clergy already exists: see Mgr John Ryan for details.

Details on all of these activities, and more, are available from the Adult Formation pages of the diocesan website. We would be delighted to hear what are the needs and gifts in your parishes and communities.

Pope Francis (Copy)“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service.”  This statement from Evangelii Gaudium – “The Joy of the Gospel” – is a humbling challenge not just to clergy but also to the laity.  In this striking phrase, Pope Francis reminds us of our baptismal responsibilities regarding the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith.  The Pope suggests two reasons for immaturity in this area: excessive clericalism and lack of the formation needed to take on important responsibilities.  But as Bishop Ralph encourages us, so Pope Francis also urges – put out into deep water!

“Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment.  Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour!”