Priest Shortage: 'Threat or Opportunity?'

 Exclusive conference report by Colin Stockford A Study Day entitled 'Priest Shortage - Threat or Opportunity', was held in Vaughan House, London on Saturday. Up to 50 people attended the conference arranged by the People of God Trust. Speakers included priests Paul Hypher, Rafael Esteban, Derek Reeve and Ray Lyon and Sister of Mercy, Mellitus Lawlor from a 'priestless parish'. Subjects covered ranged from parish work to vocations development. After their brief introductory talks, based on their knowledge and experience, the meeting broke into groups and brought their reactions and conclusions to a further plenary session. Although there was no intention to produce a formal statement or press release, the following issues were highlighted: Fifty per cent of parishes worldwide have no Parish Priest but often thrive where the baptised have accepted their responsibility as the People of God to be the church. The Church is not a democracy but it need not be modelled on a monarchy either. It is a koinonocracy in which power is to be shared. We often confuse means for ends. The church organisation and the priesthood are means to spreading the Gospel, not ends in themselves. We are tempted to think we have 'arrived', and no change is needed. We must be ever open to change if we are alive. 'Visiting' priests for priestless parishes need appropriate training; changes of priest can sometimes destroy a successful parish community. A new style of selection and training for priests is needed, enabling them better to animate a community rather than seeing themselves as secular managers. The change to 'priestless' parishes is happening and spreading; it demands active preparation rather than last minute crisis management. The gathering and prayer of the Christian community does not always need to be a 'eucharistic' service with reserved hosts. There is room for development here. The People of God Trust was founded in 1992, 'in furtherance of the Christian religion in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council'. Its patrons include Bishop Kalilombe M.Afr., Lord StJohn of Fawsley, Professor Mary Grey, and Professor Hans Kung.

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