Parishioners in parishes throughout West Cork will be asked what may seem a strange question by their local priests during these weeks and throughout the next few months

Parishioners in parishes throughout West Cork will be asked what may seem a strange question by their local priests during these weeks and throughout the next few months. The priests in several parishes, with the aid of a small group of parishioners, are seeking members for parish pastoral councils and parish assemblies. Some are being established for the first time; more parishes are seeking members to take the places of parishioners whose three-year term has come to an end.

In Barryroe parish, Fr Eoin Whooley and a local steering group have been preparing the parish for the first parish assembly there. Parishioners have already nominated people whom they believe will best serve the parish in this group. The nominees are now being asked to accept their nomination and the first gathering of the parish assembly is scheduled for the 30th of March.

In nearby Timoleague parish, Fr Pat Hickey is also working towards having the parish’s first parish pastoral council established this month. During the next few weeks, parishioners will be asked to nominate people from each station area to form the parish’s first formal leadership group which will work closely with their parish priest to guide the development of the parish.

In Ballinhassig parish, a new parish assembly has been nominated and the members are now participating in a short training programme provided by the Pastoral Development Office of the Diocese. This is Ballinhassig parish’s sixth parish assembly and they will work closely with Fr Pat Stevenson PP and Fr Pierce Timoney who is assisting in the parish.

Enniskeane and Desertserges parish has also nominated almost 40 members to from its second parish assembly and they are almost finished the formation course which is being held in the parish. Several of the members of the parish’s first assembly have remained on to serve a second term. The diocesan norm is that a parishioner may not be nominated after two consecutive three-year terms – but may serve again after a break. The new assembly joins Fr Martin Keohane PP next Saturday at a planning day where the priorities for the parish for the next three years will be discussed.

Kilcrea Friary_1.jpg
Kilcrea Friary in Ovens Parish

Ardfield/Rathbarry parish has also nominated its second parish assembly and there was no shortage of parishioners willing to serve in this role in the parish. The officers of the outgoing assembly worked with Fr Pat McCarthy to guide the transition and the new assembly – which includes several members of the previous group – are currently partaking in a formation course.

Aughadown parish is assembling its new parish pastoral council with a representative from each of the station areas around Lisheen and Kilcoe. Fr Donal Cahill is convening them for a first meeting at the end of April.

A steering group has also been established recently in Dunmanway parish by Fr. Ted Collins PP and Fr. Alan O’Leary CC. This group will work with the priests to help establish the parish’s first pastoral leadership group. As in all the parishes that set out on this path, a significant amount of preparatory work is needed to help parishioners understand and prepare for what’s involved in having a parish pastoral council or a parish assembly.

The experience with this work in the diocese is very encouraging. There is no shortage of parishioners who give generously of time and energy to working with the parish clergy to plan for and guide the development of the parishes — in particular, in developing the parish as a community centred on its people. This new dimension of parish life is also challenging for priests and we are learning, being encouraged by the experience, and also recognising that it is a positive development in the church.

For most who are being asked to become involved, the immediate question tends to be about the amount of time that saying ‘yes’ will involve. Parishioners are usually relieved to know that the principal commitment is to a monthly meeting about eight times in the year (none in the summer). A few members – those who choose to serve as chairpersons and secretaries – will have extra planning meetings to attend to help the smooth running of the group in the parish.

These groups are first and foremost leadership groups, i.e. they will discuss, plan, recommend, think, listen and pray with the parish clergy as their most important role. They will also have a role in implementing plans and responding to needs in the parishes but they are not the only people involved in this work in parishes. Projects in the parishes will be delivered with he help of all the parishioners. Most parishes already have a lot of people who help with particular needs and ministries and the pastoral council or the parish assembly does not replace these. Rather, it helps to coordinate an overall plan and help to ensure that parishioners also have a place to bring issues, have their views heard, and have their talents and gifts placed at the service of the Lord and his people.