Let's talk about vocations ...
Posted: Tue, 20 Apr 2021 16:30
Our Vocations Director Fr David O'Malley SDB gives us some food for thought and Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB talks about his vocation story as we approach Vocations Sunday on 25 April. (Photo: Fr Marco Villani SDB with some of his students.)
On average there was just over one candidate starting training for priesthood in each diocese in 2019. 60% of those candidates were over 35 years of age. Most of those who start training will be successfully ordained after five or more years of preparation. There are, in theory, 1.8 priests for every parish in England and Wales but that would include retired priests and those who are sick or involved in other roles. In practice there are now insufficient priests to staff all the parishes adequately.
There are 3.8 million Catholics in England and Wales. Attendance on a weekly basis is around 1 million, the largest of the Christian denominations. Over half the attending Catholic population is over 65 although in some areas, where ethnic minorities are present, that figure lowers considerably. More than half of cradle Catholics never attend their parish (60%).
There are over 206 religious orders working in England and Wales which attracted a total of 32 candidates in 2019. That figure is insufficient to maintain their presence and continuity of their mission. Many have not received a novice for many decades.
We have about 4000 priests in England and Wales, many of whom are now ageing and retired. We have about 1 million Catholics attending mass regularly in ethnically mixed parishes and supported by an increasing number of overseas priests and religious. It is a different church, and the traditional roles of priest and laity are under increasing pressure. The present pattern is not holding, and change will happen as we move into the future whether we like it or not.
• Parishes will decrease in number
• Priests will need to be more focused on their specific ministry, delegating and trusting laity
• Lay administration of parishes will become a more popular option
• Formation and training of Catholics will be the path to a more collaborative church.
These are profound changes for a structure that has held together for many centuries. It is not an easy time for Catholics or their pastors. Patience is needed with others and wisdom to know when and how to make changes. But our church has been preparing us for this time, reflecting on how to move forward in both changing structures and more importantly, in changed relationships.
Here are some of the thoughts of church leaders that have flagged up this change for over twenty years:
The Sign We Give
We are convinced that the manner and style of relationships in the Church are part of the sign it gives, and for this reason we must develop patterns of collaborative ministry as a key feature of Church life to come. We wish to encourage all those, women and men, who have been trying to implement and explore such new relationships, with all their difficulties and promises.
(Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Reflections, 1993)
The laity can also feel themselves called, or be called, to work with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community, for its growth and life, by exercising a
great variety of gifts and ministries according to the grace and charisms which the Lord is pleased to give them'. (EN 73)
Pastores Dabo Vobis
It is important that the priest has 'the ability to coordinate all the gifts and charisms of the community, to discern them and put them to good use for the
upbuilding of the Church in constant union with the bishops'.
The Sign we Give
Our theology of baptism and of the Church as a communion is not yet sufficiently expressed in all aspects of pastoral life. There is a widespread sense that we do not yet use all the gifts we have to hand. There are also many aspects of our culture as a Church which still convey passive attitudes towards and from
laypeople and or which expect those who are part of the hierarchical structures to compel obedience rather than invite conversion.
It is easy to become a prophet of doom when preaching on the theme of vocation; easy to see the loss rather than the opportunity that this change creates. So, when we speak about vocations let us speak with optimism, seeing the profound changes in church and society as the invitation of the Spirit to renew the church for a vastly different world. Let us speak about development and adventure rather than crisis and disaster. Can we express a deep faith in the presence of God in the church however its shape needs to change? How will your words deepen the faith and optimism of your community as we are led from where we are now to a new place that God will show us? (see Genesis 12.1)
Sources: National Office for Vocations and Contemporary Catholicism in England and Wales and research by St Mary's University Twickenham.
Fr David O'Malley SDB
Further resources from Fr David for Vocations Sunday are available to download here
Watch Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy's vocation story.