From Professor Gordon Ferns
Sir, Over the next few years, vocations within England and Wales will not provide sufficient priests to support the present parish configurations. And hence, we are told that parishes will inevitably need to close and that there will be fewer Masses celebrated on a Sunday.
As a response to this rather depressing state of affairs, some parishes, like my own, have been organised into clusters, and new priests appointed to the cluster rather than to a parish. Fewer Masses, fewer priests, who will be providing pastoral care more flexibly across a wider geographical area, fewer parishes; surely a sensible strategy?
At first this may seem an attractive solution. If there are fewer priests, this must inevitably mean they can celebrate fewer Masses. If there are fewer masses being said then there would he a requirement for fewer Mass centres.
The logic seems incontrovertible. What this argument lacks is a longer-term vision and strategy. If we have declining numbers of vocations bow should this be reversed, not just how do we use priests more efficiently as celebrators of Mass? Vocations are a personal calling to serve God and his people, not just to say Mass.
Priests must be an integral part of our parishes if young people are to aspire to the priestly life. They must continue to be inspirational leaders, not just transient visitors.
The argument also lacks sensitivity. Many Mass communities have evolved over decades. They are nurturing environments. They are where we were baptised and received our First Holy Communion. They are places where perhaps we first learned to serve God and his community as readers or servers. Perhaps they are also places where we even first thought of vocation. These communities are not easily deconstructed and reassembled. Nor indeed should they be. The formation of parish clusters cornplicates matters further. There may he a semblance of democratic decision making at this level, but it is also invariably divisive. We have recently attempted to make changes to Mass times on this basis. Hard decisions cannot he made in this way.