A 'new mentality towards the laity' is what Pope Benedict called for back in 2010. His precise wish was for the laity to be recognised as 'truly co-responsible for the being and action of the Church' – and the Archdiocese of Liverpool hopes to move a step closer to this goal with the introduction of a team of full-time lay pastoral associates.
From the beginning of next year, there will be between five and eight pastoral associates working across the Archdiocese on three-year contracts, spearheading a pilot project which will hopefully provide new life and vitality within the existing pastoral structures in our diocese.
Planning for the project began in April last year when a Paid Pastoral Workers Working Group was established in response to an invitation from the Archbishop's Council. This group, comprising ten members with different areas of experience and expertise, has been meeting to explore ways of introducing pastoral associates and has heard presentations based on the experience of such roles in the Archdiocese of Dublin and on the island of Anglesey. In January they started work on a proposal for the pilot project and after this was approved in March, they will now prepare the way for a small team to start working in January 2019.
Laity's changing role
Since the Second Vatican Council, we have been growing in our understanding of the importance of Baptism for the mission of the Church, recognising that, in different but complementary ways, each one of us is called to grow in holiness and play our part in building up the body of Christ on Earth. To enable and encourage this understanding, lay pastoral associates have been appointed in many parts of the world to share in the leadership of specific aspects of pastoral activity – such as education and formation; spirituality, prayer and worship; justice and peace – and also to coordinate the work of the many volunteers involved in pastoral ministry and parish life. To date there has been no policy within our Archdiocese to provide for such a role but this is all about to change.
As has happened with the development of Ministers of the Eucharist and lay funeral ministers – initially recruited as a practical measure given the increased pressure on the clergy, but now appreciated as essential to the life of the Church – it is hoped that these recruits will play a significant role, aided by an integrated formation programme that will develop them as reflective practitioners, skilled in fostering a facilitative culture across different areas of the diocese. In this way it is hoped that the gifts and charisms within the community can be better recognised, used and further developed.
Their main duties and responsibilities will be focused on the following: leadership and mission; education and faith formation; prayer, worship and spirituality; and community and outreach. As the new pastoral associates strive to nurture relationships across pastoral areas, they help to build towards – and, in turn, help to build upon – Synod 2020, which aims to consider practical ways of responding to Jesus' call to be missionary disciples. Between now and the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, pastoral areas and groups of parishes will be invited to make a bid based on their existing plans for pastoral and future development.
The new jobs will be advertised in mid-September.