At all Masses across last weekend, clergy of the Diocese of Brentwood read out a Pastoral Letter from their bishop, supporting the launch of a Vision Document for the diocese.
Released after four years of discussions and consultations, Bishop Alan Williams said that the publication of the document had been held up by the pandemic lockdowns and world events.
“Beginning immediately, I think we need to reclaim the fruits of the hard work and discernment that went into the creation of that Vision,” Bishop Williams said in his letter.
“I want to emphasise that it is a vision of hope despite the very difficult wider context in which we find ourselves. It is a vision that speaks of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in our Diocese and exploring new ways of doing that in our parish partnerships.”
The bishop said that he has been greatly encouraged and delighted by what he has witnessed as he’s travelled around the diocese.
“In parishes and schools the generosity and witness of laity and clergy are astonishing,” he said.
“Whether in the celebration of the Liturgy or pastoral care, authentic Catholic Life is celebrated and God’s saving work is furthered.
“However we are also facing new and serious challenges. Since the pandemic many have not returned to the practice of the Faith. There have been major shifts in the Catholic populations within the diocese. Some churches and schools have seen their local active Catholic numbers plunge; in other places we are seeing the opposite.”
The Vision Process described active ‘parish partnerships’, including collaboration around catechetics, music and Catholic organisations, but the bishop said that this good work now needs to be developed and formalised.
“Underpinning all this is a vision of the people of God working together to care for one another and to share our faith with as many people as possible,” he said.
But the bishop also warned that going forward it might not be possible to support all current parishes, and in particular the actual fabric of some churches.
“Shaping Our Future speaks of supporting our renewal by using all of our combined resources to the best of our abilities. As we go forward we must recognise that we will not be able to maintain and repair all our buildings,” said Bishop Williams.
“The Synodal Pathway led by Pope Francis emphasises the particular role of the diocesan bishop who must discern the signs of the times and determine ways forward after listening carefully to the people of God.
“If we are to ensure a flourishing Catholic presence in East London and Essex for future generations we need to renew and restructure in line with the Vision document – ‘As parish partnerships work together… everyone will need to be very bold. Reach high in your aspirations and dreams.’
“The world is rapidly changing and the future is always uncertain but God’s care for His Church never fails – ‘They are happy who do His will, seeking Him with all their hearts” the bishop concluded.
Pic: © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk