Bishop Fleming issues Statement on Lay Leadership in Parishes – Advent 2023

Statement from Bishop John Fleming

The Placing Hope in Faith initiative (or the Synodal Pathway in Killala diocese) is about to take another important step forward. It will introduce a number of lay-organised and lay-led prayer and other initiatives this Advent and extending into Lent next year. These will include: Holy Hours and other devotional practices; Scripture Reflections; Prayer Guidance; the introduction of lay Funeral Ministries; and a Bereavement Support Group.

These are new initiatives will be led by the laity and supported by the priests, as clergy and laity continue to work together in a ‘synodal spirit’. The initiatives will be quite different from any initiative to date in that primarily they will be organised by lay people but with the support of clergy and will be based at first in six host parishes: Belmullet; Crossmolina; Ballina; Enniscrone; Templeboy; and Skreen & Dromard and gradually extended to the other 16 parishes of the diocese.

Training for the new lay ministries which will under-pin the new initiatives has been taking place in the Newman Institute in Ballina for over a year now as part of a two-and-a-half year course for which 65 /70 lay Catholics have volunteered, with 49 of them coming forward to lead the initiatives mentioned above and receiving their placements in the six host parishes.

As I have indicated, the intention is to begin this Advent (2023) and continue into Lent next year (2024) with host parishes themselves deciding what is possible and appropriate for them at present and what is doable from the agreed list of initiatives as outlined above. What form these initiatives take will be the sole decision of the host parishes and will be publicised by them.

I am asking that these new initiatives – introduced first through the six host parishes and gradually extending into the other 16 parishes of the dioceses – receive a fair and supportive response. I thank those volunteers who will, with their priests, lead them for their generosity and commitment. These initiatives and those taking up these new ministries are part of our response to the challenge of introducing the Synodal Pathway, which is a new way of being Church, as Pope Francis describes it.

During Advent and through next Lent, you will see and hear how these initiatives progress in the six host parishes and gradually in other parishes. I am asking you to encourage them and support them. In a Church with fewer priests going forward and with lay Catholics taking more responsibility for leadership in parishes and in our Church, they are part of what our future Church will look like.

I wish you a blessed Advent, which will be a fruitful preparation for Christmas.

Bishop John.