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Westminster begins parish consultation process

 Parishes across the Archdiocese of Westminster are beginning a consultation process to consider their futures. All parishes have been asked by the Vicar General, Fr John Arnold, to consider the following questions and discuss the response to these at meetings to be held before Ash Wednesday. 1. What is our vision for the parish of the future? 2. What are the evident points of growth in our Parish Community? 3. How effectively can this parish support a neighbouring parish? 4. In what ways could a neighbouring parish support us? 5. How could we, as the parish community, better support our Parish Priest(s)? 6. How do we see the future of our parish? The questionnaire for parishioners, was sent to all parish priests in the Archdiocese. It was accompanied by another questionnaire for priests to fill in, asking about practical details such as parking spaces and seat numbers. A third sheet, which has been duplicated and distributed in some parishes, gives the latest statistics for priests in Westminster. These show that while currently there are sufficient numbers to cover all parishes, within five years many priests will be retiring and there could be a serious shortage if current organisational structures are continued. One Westminster priest told ICN: "It is all about managing change. In Liverpool, because of drastic depopulation in some areas, they closed down about nine churches with little consultation with the laity. This caused real heartache. I think Westminster is trying to avoid this." Fr Shaun Middleton, parish priest of St Francis of Assisi church in Notting Hill Gate, and Dean of North Kensington, said there were no plans to close parishes in Westminster. "Even our smallest parishes - like Cirencester Street with 200 parishioners, are well attended compared to those in other parts of the country." "But within five years it is likely that there will be a shortage of priests in Westminster and so we are looking at amalgamating some parishes." Fr Shaun pointed out that this has already happened in several parishes including Chiswick and Gunnersbury. "What we might see is more priests living together and going out to parishes." He said: "We are going down the Shrewsbury model, where some parishes were amalgamated and they made further plans for the future based on projections for likely number of priests. Then in fact the numbers stabilised and they haven't had to carry these out." He said: "In Westminster we have enough priests to cover all parishes at present. We have about a five year window in which to reorganise. The most important thing is that there is enough consultation and lay involvement in the process of change. That is what this questionnaire is part of."