INTO CONCILIAR GEAR
Edited by KEVIN MAYHEW
WITH GEAR-BOX INTACT
0 N Thursday, December 30, 1%5, Portsmouth's new bishop addressed his clergy for the first time. What the priests expected to hear is not recorded. What they did hear is in a document called "Let us begin."
If those who were listening to Bishop Worlock thought that this was the very stuff of radicalism, their suspicions were confirmed at the end of the speech when he said: "Radical as I may be, and hope so to continue . . ."
Strange words these, coming from a bishop. If some were alarmed they had little to fear. Since that historic meeting of bishop and priests the Diocese of Portsmouth has slipped into a Conciliar gear with a little grinding perhaps, but with no noticeable damage to the gear box.
In "Let us Begin" Bishop Worlock set out a 12-point plan for the diocese, covering Christian unity, liturgy, child welfare, vocations, the Council and most other matters which concern the Church as a worshipping and social community.
The plan was based firmly on Council teaching, "1 lay so much emphasis on the Vatican Council" he said, "because I believe that we are at a vital point in the history of the Church. It all
depends on whether we implement, ignore or administer out of existence the recommendations and regulations of the Conciliar decrees."
He talked of consultation, not just between bishop and priests, but between bishop, priests and laity, of teamwork—"no man has all the talents," he said, "and we must share what we have." The new bishop asked his priests "to allow me to try to live as nearly as possible the same life as you."
But the main argument in his first address to his clergy was one of the great themes of the Council. "The greatest of all the lessons of the Council is surely that we are all members of one Church, with one mission," he said. "All the people of God have a part to play in that mission and in the exercise of its mission the Church must act and speak with a united voice."
By the time he met his clergy, Bishop Worlock had been consecrated for nine days. He had gone to Portsmouth after 18 months in one of London's toughest parishes. He had transformed it. In Stepney he had led a first-generation group ministry team, with many of the parishes co-ordinating their work and sharing their tasks and talents. He says now that those 18 months were probably as formative as any in his life.
They certainly helped to form Stepney. "I love that man, but I can't say that round here because it's a dirty word. But the real thing is that we've got priests who care." A docker said that.
Before Stepney Bishop Worlock had spent 20 years as Secretary to the Archbishops of Westminster. First to Cardinal Griffin, then to Cardinal Godfrey and a short time with Cardinal Heenan.
He says: "I have never believed that you lack pastoral concern sitting behind a desk." And he points out that many who are doing the administrative work would probably rather be out doing the foot-slogging.
THE VATICAN COUNCIL, which he attended as a peritus (adviser) was another formative period. Besides giving him a new understanding of the Church's mission, it confirmed many of the views he had held for years.
One of these was the importance of the layman's place in the Church. "The layman," he says, "has responsibility from his baptism. It is not a question of letting the layman 'help.' Well-intentioned men speak of the need to involve the laity in the life of the parish as if they were some form of immigrant to be admitted to an ecclesiastical community.
"Pius XII used to say of the laity 'You are the Church.' We have to work so that the parish priest will open his arms to those entrusted to his pastoral care and say to them: 'Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are the Church. I have a specific task to fulfil in our community. So have you. But we must work together to carry out the mission of the Church here in this parish'."
The age of the laity therefore? Oh no, Bishop Worlock says. This is the age of the Church. The whole lot: bishop, priests, religious and laity.
"If the Council emphasises the unity of the Church— God's family—and her mission—the task entrusted by God to his family—it follows that stress must also be laid upon the sharing of responsibilities among the members of that family: bishops, priests, religious and laity with differing roles but all with responsibilities."
So far, so good. A postconciliar bishop who has studied and digested the teachings of the Vatican Council. But the test, of course, is just how effective his theories prove when they're put into action. In other words, what is the Church in Portsmouth—all 135 priests, hundreds of religious and 130,000 laity— up to?
0 NE of the first jobs Bishop Worlock set out to tackle was to oil the rusty cogs of the machine which ensured contact between the bishop and his priests. A monthly newsletter, chatty, informative. was a start.
He gave every priest a gift—the complete edition of the Council Documents. He declared his house open to all callers and announced himself prepared to foresake any of the inessentials of his office if these made it difficult for people to approach him.
"At the lowest level," he said, "take the case of the colour of my cassock buttons : who can pretend that this seriously makes any difference to the future of the Church or to the way in which we conduct ourselves? Yet if purple is to some priests and people as a red rag to a bull, I will gladly cast it on one side. If traditional forms of salutation are a difficulty for some people, then I welcome their abandonment." To further the task of consultation working parties of priests were set up in each area to examine the problems peculiar to the area. It is typical of Bishop Worlock that each area was tackled separately in this way. "You soon learn," he says, "that what goes in one place doesn't necessarily go in another."
The deaneries were reformed, with the priests from each deanery electing their own dean. "People criticised this," he says, "they said that all the curates would be elected. But priests are quite sensible people, you know." And as a result some of the best people in the diocese have been elected deans.
Bishop Worlock works closely with his deaneries and encourages them to work closely with each other. Groups of parishes co-operate, making joint assaults on common problems. A new parish can hope for financial help from neighbouring parishes. He has also set up a Council of Priests with members drawn from the Deans. "This", he says, "is not a clerical trade-union, it is to help the bishop rule the diocese,"
Preparations are now under way for a Pastoral Council of priests and laity. This will be a body constituted after exhaustive consultation at all levels after a period of intensive formation, including a ques
tionnaire to find out just how lay people view their role in the Church, and meetings up and down the diocese.
Bishop Worlock could so easily have chosen his own men for the job, and just as easily the whole thing would have collapsed because it would have represented nothing more than his own fancy.
Instead each deanery will nominate two or three lay people—"Choose those who disagree with you as well as those who agree," he told the priests—and by the early part of next year Portsmouth will have its first Pastoral Council.
SO MUCH for the structures, necessary even in the postconciliar Church. How is the grand design working in the parishes? Bishop Worlock recently made a visit to the Channel Islands. I went along with him to try to get an idea of just how far the Bishop's ideals have penetrated.
Guernsey was our first port of call. Here one of the country's few real groupministry teams is in operation. All the parishes in the Island, with the exception of one on the west coast, have been combined and are now served by one team of priests living in the main town, St. Peter Port.
Bishop Worlock says of this arrangement: "In an island community parochial boundaries can sometimes prove more a source of rivalry and friction than an
administrative advantage. Only through close unity of the priests can the people be welded into the one community written of in the Council's Decree. on the Church.
"Moreover, the priests can live as one family in the Presbytery at St. Joseph's, effecting an obvious economy in the cost of living and able to radiate out to the churches in the different areas of the island."
The experiment looks as if it is working. The three priests in the team, Fr. David Freeman, Fr. Eric Spencer and Fr, Anthony Llewhellin, working in collaboration with a French priest, Fr. Maurice Lecluze, are happy with the arrangement. Their work is now dove-tailed, they each bring a different talent to the team, with the additional benefit thrown in of an adult family life which the priest in the "one horse" parish cannot enjoy.
The people are enthusiastic about the new arrangement. Mass attendance has increased in the main church —St. Joseph's in St. Peter Port, as well as in the other churches which the priests serve.
Ten minutes by plane from Guernsey is the tiny island of Alderney with just a couple of hundred Catholics and one priest. Bishop Worlock sent Fr. Malachy Clarke there with the mission "Show those people some love" and Fr. Clarke has done just that.
To a casual observer he has welded the people into a community. Their liturgy has enthusiasm, their church is beautifully kept and they seem interested in each other.
To such a community Bishop Worlock always tries to add one more attribute. At Alderney he told the people: "See what you can
do to help those around you; the old people, those in need." His theme on all his visits is the theme . of the Vatican Council: "Show the face of Christ to the world."
No bishop had visited Alderney for several years and the people's enthusiasm was obvious. "Your visit," one layman said to him, "has given this place a terrific injection." "What has it injected," Bishop Worlock asked. "Love, hope and I think it has helped our helief," was the answer.
ONTO JERSEY — the Channel Islands visit involved us in five plane journeys in
four days, and for the Bishop a tough schedule —where another Guernseytype experiment is under way. On this island there were two parish churches, English and French, within 200 yards of each other.
In spite of many efforts in the past. there were the inevitable frustrations, duplications and tensions which arise from the proximity of different traditions, if not
language: the problems were at their most acute in a family where the two parents were of different heritage and divided loyalties.
Now the parishes have combined with the priests as one pastoral team. The Catholic organisations are now drawing their membership from both churches, and the priests service both.
First indications are that the experiment is working here too. All the priests meet each Monday morning to exchange information and pool ideas, and again the laity does not lack enthusiasm.
His last task before leaving Jersey was to sit in on the priests meeting to plan their programme with them.
In Jersey as in the other places he visited Bishop Worlock set the pace for pastoral concern. In the first morning he visited 16 houses where there were sick people, a hospital for old people and the school. With everyone he met he prayed. "There is tremendous charity among these people who look after others, and tremendous patience among those who are sick. There are many saints." he says.
When he was appointed Bishop of Portsmouth, Bishop Worlock says he tried to find out what the job of a bishop is. He sees it as threefold: to preach the Word of God; to preserve the right relationship between bishop, priests and laity; to coordinate apostolic activity, "My purpose is to ensure that everybody can fulfil the vocation given to them at baptism. We must ain't at formation at every level: doctrinal, spiritual, social and professional. Some enthusiasts have lost sight of char ity in trying to carry out reform in the Church. This could be a flaw in the postconciliar Church. Everything we do must be dictated by love."