Possibilities For Leadership In Rural Catholic Churches

With the declining number of priests available, many Catholic dioceses are investigating various ways of organising their parishes. The issue is similar to that faced by many denominations. Catholic parishes, however, have some issues not faced by most Protestant denominations in that priests have an irreplaceable role in celebrating the sacraments. Priests are central to parish life in the Catholic church and there has not been a tradition of lay people as leaders of worship. However, two case studies suggests that the patterns of leadership can change and may even strengthen parish life as they do so.

The first case study was undertaken in far western Victoria where one priest has been appointed to look after four parishes. The area for which the priest is responsible is 250 kms across and involves ten centres where Mass is said. The priest has focussed on those roles that he alone could fulfil and has encouraged lay people to take more responsibility for other roles. In taking greater responsibility for the life of the parish, some lay people reported an increased sense of their own ministry and of growing in faith.

In another case study in Victoria, the small parish was given the option of closing (and joining with a larger rural city congregation) or taking responsibility for the parish themselves. They decided to look after the parish themselves. Through a process of discernment, the parish appointed three people to be in charge of liturgy and sacraments, administration and stewardship, and community connections. A retired priest visits the parish every fortnight to say Mass. On other occasions, lay-led Assemblies of Communion and the Word take place. The result has been increased vitality in the parish. In particular, there is a high level of involvement of young people. People in leadership reported that they had grown in faith. Some of the success, however, is due to the fact that the lay people were mentored into these roles by a Sister of the Good Samaritans.

For further detail of these studies, read Pointers Vol.21, no.1. Click here to purchase and download.

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