FIVE YEARS ago a small group of bishops, priests and lay people was asked as a working party to try and plot for the Catholic Church in England and Wales some line of approach into the future. The working party was set up by the Bishops' Conference and the National Conference of Priests, and was asked to answer a simple question: How can the Church in England and Wales be of better service to Christ?
We produced our first report two years ago, and entitled it "The Church 2000". This, as it turned out, was not a good title. It gave people the impression that we were foolish enough to try and plan a pastoral strategy for the year 2000.
At the end of last year we presented our final report and it is entitled "A Time for Building". This is a good title, straight from the Scriptures, with their insight into the pattern of God's plan for the constant renewal of our world.
"There is a season for everything," says the Book of Ecclesiastes, "a time for every occupation under heaven . a time for giving birth, a time for dying, a time for planting, a time for uprooting what has been planted, a time for knocking down, a time for building ..."
This is a time for building, and possibly, in order to build well, it is also a time for knocking down.
In spite of all the work that has been done by our predecessors through the ages of Christianity, the Church in our day is being called upon to begin all over again. Our Church has a rich heritage but it is badly in need of purification according to the spirit of the Gospel,
We have to build a Church which is, for our time, alive and new, bearing the hallmark of its Creator. In our time we have to set about this rebuilding of the Church psychologically and pastorally, as if we were beginning all over again. That last paragraph proves how right is the title "A Time for Building". Everything that appears in that paragraph is taken not from our new report but from a series of talks given by the Holy Father in the second half of 1976.
From July until September the Pope, at his general audiences which are held every Wednesday, gave a series of meditations on "The Church". It is from these meditations that the above passages are taken. They give clearly what must be in the minds of all those who are planning the strategy for the Church today.
When the working party first met in 1971 its enquiry took rapid shape. "What are the means at the disposal of the Church in England and Wales? Are these resources being used to the best possible advantage by the Church today?"
It was quite clear from the agendas of various diocesan pastoral councils and of the National Conference of Priests, that in the matter of our use or our resources there is serious misgiving. Our resources are threefold money, building and people, and of these it is the people that is the keystone. Money and buildings are materials and can be properly used only by people with minds and purpose. In our document we echo the unease of many people, and recommend that the Church's money and property should be looked at carefully and brought into line with our Christian perspective.
Of all the resources the Church has, the most important are people. People live in a place, with other people, and so one of our first chapters is entitled. "The World in Which We Live". We sometimes think of the world as one of the bad things to be avoided.
It would be odd if, after all the trouble God took to come into the world and be part of it, we should spend our time trying to get away from it! God became Man for one purpose only to change this world of ours, and He set up the Church so that through it He could continue His work for all time.
His mission and purpose are ours. The Church of our time must have for the world of our time the understanding, care, and compassion, that Christ had for the world of his time.
The working party's understanding of the mission of the Church is this: "The Church exists as a sign that Christ is still present in the world. As it moves out into the world the Church becomes the instrument by which the Redemp
tion achieved by Christ is made available to all men. So the Church exists for the world and in the world. It is present in the world in order that the world may be changed".
The world of today is not the world of 10 years ago. It has suffered the restlessness of swift change and is characterised by a common feeling of helplessness, and therefore hopelessness, in the face of vast and anonymous systems that govern its being. People have lost confidence. There is the widespread realisation, especially among the young, that things can't continue along these senseless and aimless lines which lead to no satisfying future. They are waiting hungrily for the formula that will make sense of their lives and restore human dignity to themselves and to others less fortunate than themselves in the material goods of this world.
It is precisely in this kind of situation that the Church flourishes. "This is no time", writes Pope Paul VI, "to share the listlessness, weariness, and hopelessness of our world,
"Now is the time for the Church, with the freshness of youth and cheerful daring, to look closely at our society and to discern in its needs the strategy that Christ, the master builder, is preparing for us". The question on which we must exercise our minds in Christ is this "How can the Church best serve Christ today? Best use its resources to give the Good News of Christ to a world which badly needs to hear it'?"
The common launching pad for discussion among serious-minded people is to criticise the structures within the Church. Structures there must always be. Even the shapeless creature like the amoeba has its structure.
, But structures are of different kinds: there are the internal structures like the skeleton of the human body which are essential for activity, and there are the external structures like the scaffolding of a building. There comes a time when the scaffolding which was necessary to build up is no longer necessary and can be removed.
The essential structure in the Church is that of human relationships. It is on this that the whole of its activity and purpose is built up. Our first relationship is with Christ. He came to give us new life, a sharing in his life so that we can see things with his vision and purpose.
Each of the Sacraments is for us a moment of revitalisation, when the Holy Spirit revives and strengthens and builds us to fuller maturity in Christ. Christ is one with us. St Paul gives us the lovely image of the Church as the Body of Christ with Him as the Head governing and ordering to fulfil His purpose the members of his body, the individuals who make up the Church.
St Teresa puts it another way, "Christ has no other hands in this world than your hands", she wrote, "no other arms or feet than yours". In our document we stress the need for adult formation.
We cannot set about the task of doing our work as a Church until we see clearly what our life in Christ means, and what its implications are not just for ourselves but for those with whom we live. Everyone in the Church needs renewal along these lines of relationship with Christ.
Then there is the relationship among ourselves. How can bishops better fulfil their function? How can priests be better ministers of Christ? What is the role of laymen and women in the Church?
The bishop is the leader of his people, and his important work is of encouraging, putting new heart into his priests and people, listening to them to discover the ways in which all can be enabled to live and grow in a sense of joyful Christian mission.
This is why in our document we reecho the feeling of many priests who would like their diocese to be smaller so that their relationships with their bishop might be closer, and so that opportunities may grow for the bishop to be seen by his people as a person rather than as an official.
Priests, who are co-workers with the bishop, are vital in the growth of cornmunities. Their ministry is one of making the Good News of Christ clear and of expressing it in the Sacraments. Too often they are distracted from their main purpose by involvement with matters which could be best left to other people. Our document suggests ways and means whereby the work of bishops and priests can become more effective.
One of the difficulties facing priests these days is the shortage of numbers. A priest who has to say four Masses on Sunday is simply not able to do his work well.
A Liturgy which is celebrated with conviction and as a real means of communication, must involve all the energies of the priest who celebrates it. No matter how deep his faith, frequent repetition within a short time drains
him of vitality, and makes him less efficient in Christ,
The shortage of priests seems to be getting worse. God will certainly provide — but He always uses our minds and wills in the provision. Times are changing, and the working party felt that we as a Church have arrived at the point when we should consider the possibility of married men being ordained to the priesthood to work side by side with the celibate priest. "This is the question," we write, "the Church must face with courage while planning new methods of recruiting and training priests".
What is the role of lay men and women in the Church? It seems to me that this question is at the very heart of our document. Laymen and women must be helped to see their place in the Church as one of active apostolate, For too many people the word "Church" is understood to mean the Pope, bishops and priests. They are the nerve centres of the Body of Christ, but nerves need muscles and fingers and hands if they are to produce their full effect. The Church is Christ in action in our world through Pope, bishops, priests and people. The Vatican Council concerned itself with this essential involvement of laymen and women in the work of the Church. Addressing itself to bishops of the world it said: "Let sacred pastors recognise and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the layman in the Church. Let them willingly make use of his prudent advice, Let them confidently assign duties to him in the service of the Church, allowing him freedom and room for action. Further let them encourage the layman so that he may undertake tasks on his own initiative".
That is a powerful passage with the freshness of spring which Pope John hoped for from the Council. Collegiality is one of the words that came to life in the Vatican Council.
We speak of the collegiality of bishops — bishops thinking together and acting together as a team. But in fact the word must have its implications for the relationships between bishop and priests, and ultimately for the relationship between bishop, priests and people.
When in our document we speak of parish councils, deanery councils, and diocesan pastoral councils, we note that these aids to unity of purpose and concentration of energies, are sadly lacking in various parts of England and Wales. We have to ask ourselves, bishops and priests on one side, lay men and women on the other, if in fact we have that element of trust and confidence in each other which alone can make sense of words that arc constantly used in the Church today — words like "consultation," "dialogue" and "responsibility".
Undoubtedly we all need reeducation in the ways of the Holy Spirit to be able to recognise the value of Everyman in the plan of Christ.
Where does our hope for the future lie? Our report is clear in its reply: "In order to carry out their missionary role in the Church, Christians need to understand what it is they are called to do, and they need to acquire the ability and the confidence to carry it out". This calls for adult Christian formation.
In ancient times, before a pagan was accepted into Christianity, he had to undergo a long and intensive preparation to fit him for life as a Christian. We feel that, today, this adult Christian formation is essential, and believe that it should be a chief priority for the Church and should have a primary call on all its resources in terms of thought, money, time and energy.
There are many ways in which this Christian formation can be given, and no doubt they will be carefully examined and presented to us by the Synod meeting in Rome at the end of this year. One of the proven ways of achieving this formation is through a group. We believe (and hope) that very many more types of group will develop in the Church and will play a vital role in its future. An understanding of Christianity does not come just from information or instruction, but must grow out of ac tual living. As the Holy Father said recently in speaking to some of these groups, and giving them his warm support: "In the social environment of today our method of Infant Baptism needs to be completed by instruction and by an initiation into the life-style characteristic of a Christian, in the period following Baptism. "This should be attained by religious assistance, a practical training to Christian faithfulness, and actual integration into the community of believers, which is the Church," For many people the group, building itself up on the word of Scripture and the Eucharist, is the opportunity for developing in themselves the Christian life-style which becomes their witness and influence to inspire the larger communities of which they are a part, One important growth from these groups will be the necessity to create new ministries. This was hinted at by Pope Paul VI in his allocution on
January 20.ew methods
He said: "Adult formation is taking shape, creating new methods and new programmes. Also, new subsidiary ministries sustain the assistance of the priest and the deacon (ever more in demand), in teaching and in participation in the Liturgy. New forms of charity, culture and social solidarity increase the vitality of the Christian community and make it a witness and an atraction to the world."
In "A Time for Building" we mention these ministries. We, the People of God, shall need that gift of the Holy Spirit called the Gift of Discernment to recognise where these new ministries should be created.
The point we stress is that the ministries which are at present carried out by women should not be grudgingly given to them, This is an area where we must learn, as a Church, from the developments in the society of our own time, where women are achieving their true status.
The part which women have always played in the charitable service of the Church (its diakoniti) should be fully recognised. We feel serious consideration should be given to the practical and theological possibility of ordaining
women to this and other ministries, ' Many women have for a long time been doing the charitable service in the Church that was once done by the deacon.
red "A Time for Building"
and study it, preferably in groups. It is the interchange of ideas which often helps our thinking to grow. What you will read in the report is a highly condensed version of the working party's thinking over the last five years. It has been published in the hope that it will lead people to deeper thinking, and eventually to agreed action.
What is essential is that it must be prayerful thinking. What does Our Lord want us to do? The answer will give us our strategy and it will not be achieved unless we ask the Holy Spirit, who is Christ's best gift to us, to enable
cuosutroaigheionukslWyitto act with with athemih hindos heart.