Sacred Heart, Bilton and English Martyrs, Hillmorton
This summary is based on 26 individual responses to a questionnaire and a discussion in small groups via Zoom with 20 parishioners. Some people who attended the zoom meeting also submitted their own more detailed response via the questionnaire.
- Effect of the pandemic
Nearly all responses spoke of the difficulties to full parish life caused by the pandemic particularly the dramatic decrease in church attendance. Most were grateful for the online Mass provision and saw that a continuation of this would be useful for the sick and housebound. Though a few considered this could be seen as an adequate alternative to returning to church. Many commented on the usefulness of the parish WhatsApp group, but some noted that as this was set up after lockdown, not all parishioners know about it and some commented that its full potential is not utilised. A number commented that many were isolated during lockdown and were disappointed at lack of outreach to them. Many said that positive efforts need to be made to reach out and invite back ‘missing’ parishioners.One person noted that they enjoyed the quiet nature of masses during the pandemic, others looked forward to more participation and singing
One said ‘We will only attract people back to an active lively parish if we have an active lively parish’.
- Making the parish better
While a few people talked about added variety to the Mass, particularly things that would be attractive to young people and a couple talked about increasing traditional acts of piety (adoration, rosary, fasting, stations of the cross, pilgrimages etc.), the majority of comments were about community building.These emphasised that parish life should not be just about Sunday or the Mass, but social, spiritual and educational activities, these could be in the church hall but also in house groups. These need to be supported. It is possible that the laity have been encouraged to leave it to the priest to organise things. There was a strong feeling that the laity need to be involved more, but they need to be educated and trained to lead parish events. There have been good groups and activities in the past, but as the leaders of these have aged and retired new activities have not risen to take their place. Several people suggested that a parish council is needed to instigate, coordinate and support parish leadership.
One person said ‘we need to define ‘better’, together’ (Editors note: that comment seems to sum up the synodality process.)
- Participation of Families and Young People
This seemed to be an important issue for many people. Apart from the children’s liturgies ,altar serving and some involvement with music, it was felt that we do little for this. Many mentioned a dwindling number of young families and the almost disappearance of children after confirmation. Some people mentioned lack of colour and interest in the Mass, a lack of understanding of liturgical language and a lack of relevance to their lives as barriers to young people. Some suggestions were regular youth Masses (but being careful that they are designed for and with the young people and not as an entertainment for the grown ups). More involvement/communication between the parishes and the primary schools was suggested. Also youth groups/activities for different age groups. It was mentioned by one person that there was no Catholic secondary school. There is certainly a lack of continuing religious education and education in leadership in parish life for young people. Pilgrimages to Taize, Lourdes, Santiago de Compostela were cited as meaningful experiences for young people. Most of all talking with young people about their faith and what they need seemed to be a strong theme.
One young person said of the church ‘I don’t think it cares enough and does not get young people excited or give them a chance to interact or develop a more meaningful relationship with their faith outside the Sunday Mass.’
- The Parish Effectively Using the Gifts of its People
People found this difficult. They recognised that it was generally the ‘faithful few’ that kept things going and that mostly no one knew what talents others have. Again a parish council was suggested as a mechanism to explore what the parish needs and then to ask the parish who has the talents, or is willing to be trained. Another suggestion was to ask the parish what a flourishing parish looks like and what they can do to help.
One person said ‘ Sometimes convincing people they have ‘gifts is the greatest challenge.
- Serving the Poor
Several people mentioned support given to CAFOD and to the food bank, but many also mentioned there are other types of poverty locally eg. Homelessness, loneliness, mental illness as well as generally financial difficulties exacerbated by the pandemic. Often need is difficult to identify.
Suggestions included strengthening the SVP. English Martyrs has a small group, perhaps Sacred Heart parishioners could be encouraged to join them. Praying regularly for those in need. Generally building a welcoming parish community as suggested in previous sections would help raise awareness of each others needs and those of the local and wider community and prompt us to try to meet those needs.
- Other issues
At a diocesan level:
Some comments viewed ‘the bishops’ as being remote and suggested that bishops visited parishes more often, not just for confirmation,
It was felt that there was a bigger role for the diocese to coordinate and educate. It could collate good practice in parishes and disseminate it. This could include resources or workshops on children’s liturgy, how to run a parish council, how to run a house group, how to run continuing adult education in scripture, theology and spirituality with a bank of speakers that can help and a host of other matters.
As one person put it, ‘Lay people need to be instructed and nurtured to be involved with new shared responsibilities’
On a more global level:
One young person talked about her views of the church being ‘from the outside’ – the inside being what she described as ‘the hierarchy’. Others talked of clericalism and lack of involvement of the laity at all levels. There was strong feeling that the church was too male dominated. One person said ‘ The top down pattern of authority has resulted in lay people being institutionalised and disenfranchised.’Celibacy was questioned and the lack of women in the priesthood.
It was suggested that greater effort is needed in genuine Christian unity. Eucharistic hospitality needs to be looked at for Christians outside the Catholic church and those at the margins of the church, eg divorced, gay, etc. Where in the gospels do we see Jesus refusing to share a meal with anyone? – He shared with Judas even, at the first Eucharist.
Many people welcomed this opportunity to express their views and wanted more.