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Progressing the Pastoral Plan – The Archdiocesan Synodal Council Report

The first meeting of the Archdiocesan Synodal Council marked another step forward in efforts to realise a Synodal vision for the archdiocese.

By Fr Philip Inch, Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Organisation and Synodal Implementation

It has been almost two years in the planning and has involved priests, deacons, bishops, religious and laypeople from across the archdiocese. It has been organised by a committed group who have formed an executive. It is the Archdiocesan Synodal Council (ASC) and its first meeting was a landmark moment for a body created to sustain the commitment made to be a Synodal Church.


At the heart of the ASC is this truth: that God speaks to the Church if we listen to the voices of all the baptised. This is what drives the Synodal vision of Pope Francis. The ASC got its mandate from the Pastoral Plan, which was itself the fruit of the Archdiocesan Synod of June 2021 – concluding four years of prayer, meeting, planning, listening and discerning. All of those steps led to our first ASC meeting on 25 November, a meeting attended by 120 people and presided over by Archbishop Malcolm McMahon. Bishop Bev Mason, Anglican Bishop of Warrington, set a positive tone in the day’s opening reflection.


‘It’s upon your firm foundations of enduring presence, hospitality, faithful witness and service, of generosity — and of keeping your nerve when everyone around you may be losing theirs – that you’re now seeking to build ... and be more of a visible and proactive presence in the name of Christ,’ she said. ‘It’s our Lord’s own ministry that you’re seeking to intensify, and you couldn’t be doing this at a more crucial time. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ she added. ‘The biggest blockage to mission and outreach is us and our own self-consciousness and confidence. Remember who it is who calls you. And remember He is with you.’

The meeting’s main purpose was to hear what had happened to implement the Pastoral Plan since its November 2021 publication and, under the six Pastoral Plan areas, to suggest priorities for the next 12 months. These priorities, and the discussion around them, have been collated, and are as follows:


Becoming a Church that honours the vocation of all the baptised

- Establish a continually developing plan to empower/enable all the baptised to develop confidence in living out and sharing their baptismal vocation.


- Gather models of good catechesis and create ways for good practice to be shared across parishes.


- Construct a plan and strategy to implement the employment of lay pastoral workers.


The responses hold firm the tension of doing things in the Church and of living out our baptismal calling in the daily living of our lives. The way we hold that tension forms the struggle of trying to suggest priorities. Do not limit ministry to things we do in the Church or for the Church. The vast majority of Church members are lay people! If we had a thorough audit of skills, we would be encouraged. The need for evangelisation and formation was stated often, as was the need to be committed to paid pastoral staff on the ground. An invitation to a personal relationship with Christ must be at the heart of our understanding of responding to our baptismal calling.


Becoming a Church that accompanies people through life


- Clarify what is meant (and not meant) by accompaniment and how this relates to synodality and communicate this to all parishes, and create a structure and plan to implement accompaniment across the archdiocese.


- Develop programmes to identify the different accompaniment needs of specific groups (e.g. parents with young children, marriage preparation, the elderly, those in mixed-faith marriages, those freshly graduated, catechists, social-action groups, sick, disabled, divorced and separated, LGBTQ+, bereaved, single parents, those struggling with cost of living, prisoners and their families, families with children or adults with special needs, supporting Catholic children in special schools or in non-Catholic schools, teachers).


Many comments put at the heart of accompaniment a renewed encounter with Christ and a need to be formed in different areas of spirituality (spirituality network, etc.). The importance of formation looms large, especially for those entrusted with ministries – catechists being just one example. The lack of a director in the pastoral department was felt to be a weakness. One comment raised a question for reflection: why would anyone want to be accompanied by us?


Becoming a Church where synodality is embedded

- Commit to looking at governance structures across the archdiocese, ensuring transparency at all levels.

- Ensure and develop support for effective working of the DSCs (Deanery Synodal Councils).

- Develop a strategy to better communicate the path the archdiocese is following in implementing the Pastoral Plan.


How do we ensure all parishes and archdiocesan structures are embracing our commitment to synodality? It was clear that some are worried about places where there is no engagement for varied reasons. There was a realisation that we had not clearly communicated the path on which we are walking. If we are to set up new structures, we must support those who give of their time and energy to enable these to work effectively. We must not be afraid of giving the time needed – but we must also not be afraid to move on!

Becoming a Church that renews its organisational structures and administers its property to serve its mission


- Equip all in the Families of Parishes to capture and share the vision involved in their development, particularly in relation to our use of resources and our environmental responsibilities.


- Review how we are operating in every level of archdiocesan life and work regarding the Synod.


Many people felt we were trying to talk the talk, without walking the walk! We are not being as bold and creative as we have been encouraged to be. Formation is required to enable this. Are buildings more important than people and mission? There is a commitment to making Families of Parishes work – but questions about the support needed to make this happen. What is our mission? What is the reason we do all we are doing? We are being called to make this clear for everyone.


Becoming a Church where the young flourish


- The Youth Synodal Council must be established as an urgent priority


- Support schools pastorally in developing chaplaincy with particular reference to the Catholic life of the school and links with local parishes and communities.


We must not leave the future to chance. What is the place of the parish in ministry to and with young people? An easy answer is Catholic Youth Workers – but in what way? Animate’s work is seen as important but we should re-focus on the links with parishes and young people and young adults.


Becoming a Church that cares for its priests


- Develop a system of mentoring and pastoral accompaniment for all priests in the archdiocese, taking special note of the way this is communicated.


- Find new ways of giving priests support in administration, finance, building management and maintenance in order to free them for their specifically priestly ministry.


There is both a realistic and unrealistic expectation regarding the ministry of priests. Well-being for ‘staff’ is key in all business, no less so for priests. There was concern for priests who are getting older with no reduction in workload and pastoral demands. Again, as in the Synod, it was made clear that there is great affection for and concern for the priests of the archdiocese whose work is valued and appreciated.


This ASC Report, as well as a supplementary document providing a record of all the points made in the submissions that were received, will be made available on the archdiocesan website.


The next ASC gathering is on Saturday 9 November 2024.

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