As the Church seeks to respond to new challenges, it needs a better understanding of the role of the permanent diaconate, the National Conference of Priests (NCP) have said at their annual meeting. The title of the four-day conference (September 4 - 7), held at Trinity and All Saints College in Leeds, was Life in a Faith-Full Society. It was attended by delegates from all 22 dioceses, the Bishopric of the Forces, religious orders and special ministries. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton and Bishop John Rawsthorne of Hallam also took part. In many dioceses of England and Wales, said the NCP, there is a lack of understanding of the ministry of the permanent diaconate. It has called for better in-service training among bishops and priests and better formation in places where deacons are appointed. The NCP also passed four other propositions. It called for the bishops to "reinvigorate the priests and people of our land" and to consider once again implementing the recommendations of the committee investigating seminary provision in England and Wales. Bishops were urged to provide clergy with simplified guidance regarding child protection and the clergy. Priests approaching retirement should be given the opportunity to discuss adequate provision for their future accommodation and income. Keynote speaker Father James Hanvey SJ, director of the Heythrop Institute for Religion, Ethics and Public Life, said we shouldn't just think of the Church evangelising a culture. It is a two-way street. A culture also "evangelises" the Church. The Church has much to be grateful for from democratic society, and it can learn from it, as it meets new challenges. At the same time, the Church needed to speak convincingly to win the respect of that society. The Church, said Father Hanvey, was being challenged to respond to contemporary culture's search for life and meaning. "What our culture says to us is: Before you can offer us life, who are you? Do you really believe in this life you offer?" Father Tom Jordan of Brentwood diocese was elected the new chair of the NCP.
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