A new model of ‘team ministry’ across parishes will allow parishes to pool talents while keeping their own distinct identities, according to Limerick’s Bishop Brendan Leahy.
In a pastoral letter last weekend, Dr Leahy mapped out a plan to arrange the Diocese of Limerick’s parishes into ‘pastoral units’, groups of parishes served by teams of priests. These teams will include parish priests and a ‘co-parish priest’ who will move around the unit, with each unit having one pastoral council and one baptismal team.
“The pastoral units model is a way of recognising the value of the local parish but also encouraging co-operation with neighbouring parishes,” Dr Leahy told The Irish Catholic.
Pointing out that “local identity is always important”, Dr Leahy stressed the need to prepare for a time in the future when numbers in each local parish will be lower.
“It will be to the benefit of all that parishes can start pooling talents, ideas and initiatives,” he said. “What one parish might not be able to do on its own, it might be better helped when working with others.”
Citing how initiatives for families, young people, or parents who want their children baptised might be better done across pastoral units rather than purely on a parish-by-parish basis, he stressed that these plans are simply administrative proposals.
“The structural side of the new arrangements will have to be accompanied by renewal also on the spiritual, intentional and missionary dimensions of our faith. Structural changes on their own are never sufficient,” he said, adding that prayer to the Holy Spirit would be necessary not merely for the sake of pastoral units and their teams, but also to prompt a heightened sense of spirituality and faith experience among the people within the units.
The new team ministry approach was originally flagged during the 2016 Limerick Diocesan Synod, and while Dr Leahy says it has been necessitated by declining numbers of clergy, he emphasised in a statement that this is in line with a global realisation that collaboration is profoundly necessary.
Citing how Pope Francis speaks of a need for a more synodal Church, he said: “We journey to God together. We need to promote arrangements that encourage greater co-operation and exchange between parishes.”