In his pastoral letter for the first Sunday of Lent 2016, Bishop Alan Williams sm invited lay people within the Diocese of Brentwood to put themselves forward to play an important role in shaping its future. Called 'Stewards of the Gospel', these volunteers will use their talents to work closely with clergy, parishes and schools as part of the diocesan planning process. Appointed in each parish, a Steward will, with local clergy and parishioners, assess the resources available in the parish and locally to maximise the opportunities for evangelisation and sacramental provision. He or she will encourage discussion and be an advocate for their fellow parishioners, communicating their ideas, thoughts and concerns to the Diocesan Strategic Planning Group.
The key tasks for the Stewards of the Gospel are:
Summer '17 - The Diocese of Brentwood has published a Draft Working Plan proposing ideas for its future renewal and restructuring. In his foreword to the document, Bishop Alan Williams sm reiterates the challenges facing the church in a changing world and his desire to collaborate and consult with the lay faithful on the difficult decisions to be made. 'With your help and prayers and with confidence in Christ and Mary I am sure that we can find a way to build on the strong foundations of the last 100 years' he says.
Steven Webb, Diocesan Director of Development, has written to the Stewards of all parishes to launch the proposed strategy, which aims to maximise the opportunities for evangelisation and sacramental provision across the diocese, given the resources available during the decades to come.
He says: 'This document explains how we recommend that we move forward together in order to evangelise our diocese, care for one another, exercise the ministry of charity and celebrate the sacraments. It sets out principles for how we could work together to achieve our vision through our objectives and a strategy that combines both renewal and restructuring.'
He asks that all parishioners read and discuss the Draft Working Plan, which will be available on the website and in hard copy form. 'Try to consider what is best for our diocese as a whole rather than just what is best for your parish alone. Please bear in mind that renewal and restructuring are equally important and try to look beyond the obvious possibilities that first spring to mind. There is always more than one way in which we can do things in every location across our wonderful diocese.'
He invites people to be creative with ideas and feed them back to the diocese. 'The framework we are proposing does not necessarily lead to one outcome rather than another. We want people to think how their church might look in their locality. Be bold, be creative and let us know your ideas before we begin to make proposals for individual locations.'
He adds: 'Later in the year we will set out the First Formal Proposals for the Renewal and Restructuring of the Diocese but first we want feedback from you on the strategy and framework we propose in this document': Diocese-of-Brentwood_Working-Together.
Late '17 - We received the promised First Formal Proposals for the Renewal and Restructuring of the Diocese titled 'Working together to evangelise our diocese'.
March '18 - Our draft response to the proposal can be seen here.
April '18 - We received this letter from Steven Webb, the Director of Development at the Diocese. It alters the time line for the Stewards of the Gospel process so that their response to the documents sent in by the parishes is now not due until the end of May. We are expecting a video message from the Bishop in the next week or so - Steven's letter can be found here.
May '18 - We received the bishop's video message.
December '18 - Diocese publishes Vision Document aims to maximise the opportunities for evangelisation and sacramental provision across the diocese, given the resources available in the future. Bishop Alan has recorded a video message to all parishioners.
July '19 - NW Deanery publishes Stewards of the Gospel Newsletter describing a "partnership" between the parishes of the deanery with the aim of planning for the future.
October '19 - The North Essex Parish Partnership (the parishes of the North Essex Deanery) publish A Draft Proposal for Abridged Restructuring a draft which forms part of the recommendations of how our parish and deanery should be moving forward.This will be sent to Bishop Alan and his team along with our recommendations to restructure the parish and diocese.
April '20 - Message from Steven Webb, Director of Development, Diocese of Brentwood.
Dear Friends, Following conversations with Bishop Alan it has been decided that we will not publish Parish Partnership plans at Easter as previously intended. With all that is going on in our world right now it would be unwise and insensitive to be publishing the responses to the consultation that began back in 2017. Although this is a little frustrating it is the best course of action. Therefore, the project is being put “on hold” until at least the end of May 2020. We will review the position as the COVID-19 situation develops and keep you informed.
Our world is changing during this pandemic and it will continue to do so even after it has passed. For some of us, our personal circumstances will be sadly changed and for all of us the future we envisaged only a few short weeks ago may well have changed quite a lot.
A good number of parishioners and priests are being asked to isolate themselves for 12 weeks and estimates of how long the isolation of the entire population will last vary from a few weeks to several months. Our churches are currently closed and normal parish life is impossible. When they can re-open and when we can come together to worship again is unknown.
It is only right and proper at a time like this that our attention should be on caring and praying for one another and helping each other through the current crisis. I have heard of many initiatives from telephone trees to food deliveries, Zoom/ Skype/ Facetime meetings and social get togethers. Live streaming of Mass has been very well received by many and new expressions of spirituality are being found.
It is good to see so many people rising to the challenge of helping their neighbours in times of such need. The challenge will get bigger in the coming weeks and we must all support each other as best we can.
What we will return to might not be what we expected when all of this began and perhaps some of you will think and pray on what the future could look like after all of this passes.
If anyone has any thoughts specifically on how their draft parish partnership plan might change in the light of our current situation I am happy to receive them.
I would also like to ask Stewards and Priests to put the role of Steward of the Gospel “on hold” at least until the end of May. We will also revisit that and keep you informed as the current crisis evolves.
This morning the church leaders in Britain and Ireland (including our Cardinal) issued a joint statement that reminds us that although we cannot be together physically we can unite in prayer and make our homes places of prayer. They close their statement with a prayer that I will leave you with.
Loving God, in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for our salvation, cast out the darkness of our anxiety, fear and mourning, enfold us in your love and give us joy and hope this Easter. Amen.
For more information please contact Ken Lowe (Steward of The Gospel, Saffron Walden).