A while back, a conversation was initiated by a post by my friend Msgr. Charles Pope about the number of people attending the Extraordinary Form. My post about it HERE.
At the UK’s best Catholic weekly, the Catholic Herald, there is a offering by a young priest, Fr. Matthew Pittam, who has been serving a small rural parish. What he says has something to offer to the discussion of the numbers (growing numbers) of people attending mostly or only the Traditional Latin Mass at legitimate churches and chapels.
What future is there for small communities within the Catholic Church? [I think most will agree that TLM communities are small communities.]
Rural parishes like mine are struggling because of a drop in vocations and a lack of imagination
For almost the last five years I have ministered in a small rural parish in the Midlands. Twelve villages, outlying farms and countryside comprise the parish and many people travel long distances to attend Mass. [That applies to TLM communities too.] If you were a bishop planning for Catholic provision today you probably wouldn’t open a church here, but thanks to the historic conversion of Rudolph Fielding, 8th Earl of Denbigh, the parish was endowed and established. [“endowed”… I assume this means that lots of money was provided to see to the parish’s future.]
Today the parish is lively and vibrant, although a normal Sunday would see attendances at Mass which are just below 100. [This probably describes many TLMs.] We have a choir, full serving team, an active (and youthful) Union of Catholic Mothers and regular young peoples activities. [Sound familiar?] There is a daily Mass, weekly adoration and the full cycle of the liturgical year is celebrated in all its fullness. Our musical tradition is flourishing and unusually for a Catholic parish, everyone sings. There are good links with the local village communities and other churches, as well a longstanding relationship with the village C of E school and care homes. The school is probably unique in that there is a regular Mass for Catholic children and a Catholic teacher is employed to provide catechesis. In many ways the parish punches well above its weight.
When the secular Parish Council recently published its Parish Plan, St Joseph’s was regarded as a valuable and important community asset. This is in a community where so many assets, such as the shop, have long since disappeared.
Whilst our parish may be active and full of life, when it comes to numbers of parishioners we could easily be seen as non-viable. The Catholic news is full of stories of church closures, amalgamations of parishes and reorganisation. I know of parishes nearby which are much larger than we are, where Masses have been lost and where they now share a priest with a neighbouring community. What future is there then for small communities within the Catholic Church?
Bishops have an unenviable job when faced with declining numbers of clergy. It would be sad however if they were they were to see the future solely in terms of financial viability and the ability of the faithful to travel to Mass at other centres. A church such as mine is a community at the heart of the community. We have a strong visible and emotional presence in the villages that we serve and this would be lost if local Catholics were expected to travel to a larger church in a neighbouring town.
The Supermarket Model
Over the last thirty years supermarket chains have established larger and larger stores on out of town sites away from local communities. [A priest friend, deceased at too young an age, once had the nearby parishes of St. Martin and St. Walburga. He thought that if they were forced to merge he would call it St. Walmart.] Each time a new branch was opened it seemed to be bigger and better than the last. However, the tide has now begun to turn and many large out of town sites remain undeveloped. The big six chains have recognised again the value of local convenience stores and this has represented a massive growth in the sector over the last few years. This is also coupled with a desire amongst consumers to buy produce with local provenance.
[NB] It appears that in seeking to amalgamate parishes and create bigger centres, the church is adopting a model of ministry just at the point when the commercial and retail world is abandoning it.
Should we therefore think again about the value of smaller churches and the missional possibilities that local communities present in the work of The New Evangelisation?
Read the rest of the piece over there. And, please do read it, especially if you are going to comment here.
I saw a connection. I bring it to your attention.