Many Gifts, One Spirit – Recent Assembly for Priests

An update from Bishop Kevin following a recent Assembly for Priests in the Diocese of Elphin.
Many parishioners across the Diocese will be aware that the priests were away for a few days, at the beginning of February for “some kind of meeting”. The gathering, which took place in Galway, was part of a series of conversations that we have been having over the past few years, with a view to exploring how we in the Diocese of Elphin can respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to live and work together as a community of faith in the 21st century.
Just before COVID, we had begun to arrange gatherings at Deanery level, involving parishioners from every parish. This was continued in a different context with the synodal gatherings that we had around the Diocese in 2022 and 2023. In Galway, the priests expressed the view that the life of the Church is richer and more fruitful, when there is a real commitment to shared responsibility (between priests and the lay faithful, between women and men, between people of all ages), and a real spirit of “communion” or partnership between one parish and another.
In reflecting on the realities of the Diocese, during our few days in Galway, we were reminded that there are literally hundreds of parishioners actively engaged in the mission of the Church, in a wide variety of ministries and services. There was an awareness among the priests, which has also been expressed in many of our synodal conversations, that the engagement of the faithful in various ministries and forms of service is not just a matter of “helping out” in the parish, but of people exercising a mission that is rightfully theirs by virtue of their Baptism.
We are each called to mission in accordance with the particular gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us, but we are called as “one body in Christ”. Everybody has something to contribute, and nobody in the Church is more important than anybody else. It is my intention that, over the coming months, we will arrange further conversations at parish level and at deanery level to explore how co-responsibility can become a reality at every level in our Diocese.
Many priests expressed the concern that, while administration is an important part of our responsibility, it sometimes seems to take up more of our time than it should. This is something which many parishioners will understand, because it is not unlike your own experience, in agriculture, in business, in education and even in managing your own homes. In our hearts, we want to devote our energies to what gives life: to opening the Scriptures for people, sharing faith and celebrating the Sacraments well. Our hope, coming away from Galway, is that we can work with you and learn from you as we seek new and more effective ways to make all these things possible.
Our Diocese, as many people would point out, is rather unusual in shape. Many of our thirty-eight parishes are made up of rural communities, with relatively small populations and two or three Churches. Those parishes are served by far fewer priests than in the past and the average age of priests is quite high. We are blessed to have the generous support of missionary priests, many of whom are younger. We recognise that their ministry, here in a different cultural space and far from home, is not without its challenges. Like you, we struggle at times, to make sense of life in these changing times.
I hope this brief feedback from the gathering in Galway will give you confidence that, as priests, we are committed to working with all the people of the Diocese towards the future that God has planned for us. During our time together, we recognised the need to work in partnership with our parishioners to consider how mission and ministry might need to change, in and between our parishes, in the future. We go forward together, with a strong awareness that, while one plants and another waters “it is God who gives the growth”. (cf. 1 Cor. 3:6-7)
Bishop Kevin Doran, 29th February 2024