Sister predicts future with lay-led parishes

 A nun who runs a 'priestless parish' has forecast that in 20 years time hundreds of parishes in mainland UK will be without a resident priest. Sr Mellitus Lawlor, who runs the parish of St David's, Stanwell at Staines, Middlesex, said that there are already nine lay-led parishes in England and Scotland. Writing in Catholic Omnibus, the quarterly newspaper published by the National Board of Catholic Women, she said: "In 15-20 years in many of our dioceses there will not be a resident priest in most parishes." Sr Mellitus suggested that lay people interested in running parishes needed 'placement experience' for the practical side of the ministry. This could be possible using the existing lay-led parishes. Sr Mellitus has run St David's parish, near Heathrow airport, since 1994. She was given pastoral responsibility for parishioners and administrative care of the parish buildings and finance. Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, former area bishop and now Bishop of Lancaster, helped with advice, time and acting as supply priest for the weekend. A parish council was set up open to any parishioner, catechists were trained, an RCIA programme set up and Eucharistic Ministers recruited and trained. In preparing for a parish mission, volunteers knocked on 2,500 doors and as a result found 500 Catholics, in addition to the 300 already officially recorded. Sr Mellitus said: "everyone greeted us with courtesy and friendliness." The follow-up had been an increase in Mass attendance, a return of several 'distanced' families and a deepening of the community. Sr Mellitus said the leadership of the nine priestless parishes identified was currently in the hands of a religious Sister, working closely with lay people. But lay leadership was the way forward. Mgr James Overton, of the neighbouring parish of Ashford, who occasionally celebrates Mass at St David's at weekends, said: "Parishioners are delighted with Sister. They were very happy that rather than having noone on site there would be someone, who has been wonderful."

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