by Angus Macdonald THE diocese of Nottingham in an attempt to cope with a continuing shortage of priests is considering a major territorial • shake-up which could involve the "amalgamation.' of up to 20 parishes as well as experiments in team ministry.
The Catholic Herald has obtained a copy of a working party report presented last month to Bishop James McGuinness of Nottingham and the diocesan College of Consultors and Cathedral Chapter which sets out
detailed parish-by-parish proposals for merging many of the diocese's smaller parishes with larger neighbouring ones, and also suggests instituting experimental three or fourmember "team ministries" in Nottingham and Grimsby.
The seven-member working party was set up last year by Bishop McGuinness in an attempt to develop a long-term strategy for coping with the continuing shortage of priests in the diocese.
The first stage of the strategy involving the rationalisation of Mass times has already been instituted in the Nottingham diocese over the last year, making it possible for a priest to celebrate Mass in more than one parish.
But so acute is the shortage of clergy that Bishop McGuinness asked the working party to consider the amalgamation of parishes and the possibilities provided by team ministry. The diocese could no longer rely on "plugging gaps" whenever a priest died or retired through illhealth.
Fr Liam Kelly, Nottingham diocesan Communications Officer, said this week: "Churches everywhere are facing a decline in the number of priests, and we've got to look at how we can run our parishes in the future. This report sets out to try and do that."
He stressed that it was merely a consultative document and that it represented a long-term view of the diocese's future.
Fr John McCay, secretary of the diocesan Council of Priests, said that the idea of the working party was "to try to form some sort of measured response rather than merely reacting to a crisis."
The report's authors deny that their recommendations will involve any parishes having to close. "We must stress that in no way are our proposals suggesting the closure of parishes. This is something we do not contemplate happening." They emphasised that their aim had been to preserve the "basic eucharistic foundation" of every parish.
Under the proposed scheme, one priest would cover the two parishes that are to be merged. Some presbyteries would inevitably become empty, but no churche would close and the finances of individua: parishes would remain independent.
The 16-page report also suggests that priests may have to be "retrained" to enable them to handle the greater volume of work involved in a merged parish. "Those priests taking on a larger parish will need to have their fears quelled as to how they can be expected to cope with what may amount to double their workload," it said.
Similar reassurance would need to be available for parishioners, according to the working party. Parishes losing a resident priest through amalgamation. they said, "need to be reassured that their community will not be neglected in favour of the 'other' Church."
The proposals for team ministries were "a shot in the dark" according to Fr Kelly. "The idea is being bandied about as a possible way forward," he said. There are at present only a handful of team ministries in England and Wales.
The report was presented to the diocesan council of priests on May 20 and will now go forward for discussion at deanery meetings throughout the diocese.