“The challenge for Church is not just to find personnel to maintain traditional structures but how to look forward, and not back, and adapt in such a way that we cease to be focussed on maintenance, and develop laity and clergy in a way that they are fit for mission – making, forming and sending new disciples of Christ.”
So said Derry Bishop Donal McKeown to Derry Now in the week ending August 12th, 2017.
He was speaking in the context of a looming critical shortage of priestly manpower – with only two seminarians currently in training for his diocese.
“Yes, I keep encouraging people to pray for more vocations to priesthood and to religious life as there remains a huge demand for spiritual support and growth.
“But there is also a parallel call to laity to take up their various apostolates that are part of being a Christian.
“That change of culture will involve a diocesan wide process of training and formation.
“So I find this an exciting and energising time as we become a missionary Church in Ireland.”
Informed that we in ACI are highlighting his call to mission, Bishop McKeown has welcomed this in an email on Sep 19th, 2017 – and referred us to his address on the ordination of Charles Lafferty of the Pallottine order on June 29th, 2017 – especially this passage:
“The task for the modern Irish church is to be re-energised by the mission of every baptised person to evangelise and bless our hurting country with the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
“But the temptation to clericalism has often reduced the call to a lay apostolate to that of lay ministry. That can end up with being just a clericalisation of some laity who help the priest to do his things – distributing Holy Communion, holding weekday services or even burying the dead. But it is not a development of the vision of Christifideles Laici. The real apostolate that Vincenzo Pallotti prophetically made space for is the mission of the ordained to preach, sanctify and lead and the mission of each member of the non-ordained to have an apostolate within the missionary people. The service of the ordained minister is to teach, sanctify and lead in Christ’s name so that the evangelising apostolate of the church can be carried out by every baptised member. A church of clericalised clergy and laity will not attract and inspire young people because it is not faithful to the Gospel idealism of Jesus.”
Bishop McKeown finally adds this:
“The role of the laity is not to help the clergy in their evangelising role. It is the role of the clergy to equip the laity to take their evangelising role. The former is quite cosy for all concerned. The latter is very challenging for clergy and laity.”
We can only add: “Bring that on!”
Members of ACI will welcome Bishop McKeown’s eager adoption of a ‘mission’ stance – and especially his prediction of ‘a diocesan wide process of training and formation’.
However, this raises many obvious questions – especially our typical state of readiness for a proactive ‘missionary’ role, following decades of church scandal, decline and absence of dialogue.
Obviously training will be a must – but who in Ireland is equipped for that training role?
And to whom exactly will that ‘mission’ be directed in the first instance? To ‘all and sundry’ or to a specific sector of the Irish population that might be deemed ‘most promising mission territory’?
And what ‘good news’ will be brought to that ‘target audience’?
For example, if our current typical manner of ‘celebrating’ Eucharist is deemed ‘boring/irrelevant’ by so many of the young, do we need to begin by re-learning what a mission-oriented Irish Mass would look and feel like?
Convinced that Bishop McKeown is correct to insist that a reliance on mere ‘maintenance’ is a failed strategy, and that ‘mission’ must be attempted if the Irish church is to recover, we begin a series of articles here, focused on ‘Irish Mission Now?’ – the feasibility of such a project—and the strategy required to move the church into an effective missionary stance.
Convinced also that no one yet has all of the answers – and that a missionary Irish Church could take decades to come fully into being – we call on our members to help us find some of those answers.
Almost certainly you are already thinking about these issues – and perhaps already engaged in activities that could be a seed-bed for ‘mission’. If you have already tried ‘pushing the boat out’ in your own sphere, please let us know – even if you have suffered more reverses than successes. We need urgently to become a learning church—and learning is often a matter of making mistakes to begin with.
To tell us your story, or to offer a considered opinion on ‘Irish Mission Now?’—even if you are pessimistic about such a project—click here to email us.