You are Living Stones
The year 2010-2011 marks my tenth year amongst you as your Bishop. The past ten years have been a time of real growth in grace, both for me as your Bishop, but also for the Diocese as a whole. We are a people truly blessed in the Diocese of Nottingham; blessed with vibrant faith-filled parishes, outstanding Catholic schools, a youth service which is the envy of many other dioceses, our contribution to the wider community through our chaplaincy work makes a real witness to the Gospel and all of this is thanks to you, the living stones which build up the Church here in the Diocese.
As I reflect on the past ten years, one seminal moment was our Diocesan Assembly in 2003. We invested an enormous amount of time and energy in the assembly knowing that the future of our church in Nottingham was dependent not on what could be imposed on the people, but from what the people drew their life. I wanted it to be a true “conversation” about where we had come from, where we were, and to where was the Lord calling us to go. The three days of the Assembly at Loughborough University were important, but the most important work was the year of prayer and reflection in our communities all over the diocese, thinking, praying talking about the Church.
The Mass which brought the Assembly to a close was a real high point, where nearly 6000 people from all over the diocese came together to worship God and to receive Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist – food for our journey on. For we must always remember that he is our source of life and the goal of our lives, sustaining us daily through his Body and Blood. Christ is the centre of our lives and we as a community of faith are empowered by him to look out into the world and to witness to the Good News of the Gospel. At the end of that Mass we received all the recommendations of the Assembly and set about putting them into practice in our Diocese.
The following year, we drew up a Diocesan Three Year Plan distributed to all our communities to be implemented in their places as best they could. I have always stressed that it was not a one size fits all plan, but we should work to our strengths and our weaknesses to implement the greater consciousness of the Diocese, arrived at through the Assembly process, into the local communities. We have completed that three year plan timescale and now we have to begin a new consultation on parishes, priests and their relationship together.
It is very easy to say that there has been little progress over the past ten years, yet we have to be content as the sowers of seeds, not the gatherers of flowers. As I travel around the diocese, celebrating Confirmations and on official parish visitation, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of ordinary parishioners in ensuring the Word of God is heard in their locality. They support the priests of the diocese in their work both within and outside of the church. The smallest task in our communities, done with a generous spirit, is a work of praise and love for God.
Over the next year, I want us to reflect on how we will support each other as communities in the years to come when we will have to face a falling number of priests able to serve in the diocese. It is my intention, as best as I can as your Bishop, to ensure that each Eucharistic community in the diocese has access to a weekly Mass. It is not my intention to close churches and disperse communities; that would be counter-productive to what we aim to achieve. I want us to work together to make sure that everyone, with that generosity of spirit, shares their talents and skills to ensure that each Eucharistic community is able to survive as part of the living Body of Christ, living stones, of our Diocese.
We do not take to change easily, but over the ten years of my time with you, we have already embraced changes of great significance. There are a significant number of parishes without a resident priest who are served from neighbouring parishes. This situation is more common in the diocese now and it is by no means a sign of failure, as the gifts and talents of both parishes have come into play to ensure that the communities, based around the Eucharist, flourish in their own specific way. Many parishes now work together on catechetical courses and other activities. Many of our parishes served from other places by priests have parish sisters living in the presbyteries and they enrich the life of the parish by their spiritual presence and pastoral gifts.
I hope that as we being this prayerful consultation, we should be willing to embrace what is right for the church in our local communities. Always having the Lord as our source of inspiration and goal, we need to make sure that the church in our diocese has a strong basis for building into the future. To do this, we must work together to express that desire of St Peter when he wrote that we “may be living stones making a spiritual house as a holy priesthood to offer the spiritual sacrifices made acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Our discipleship means that we are willing to listen to the Word, act on it and offer our gifts and talents to it. We need generous hearts and minds to undertake this work, but with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to build a future which will yield that rich harvest which we began to sow with our Diocesan Assembly.
With all good wishes,
+ Malcolm McMahon OP
Bishop of Nottingham