Paul Kennedy offers a view of ministry in the Northern Province
Bishop Glyn has given me six things that he wanted me to share. First, he said, ‘Tell them what it is like to be a catholic priest in the North-East of England’. I guess it’s not very much different from being a catholic priest in any other part of England. We are of course a minority group, with about twenty Society churches in Durham Diocese, most of which are in the poorest areas, with all the strains and stresses that go with that, the social issues of the community, the lack of aspiration and hope that poverty can bring, and the impact on church life with the crumbling large buildings, the low capacity. But for all that, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else because that is where we believe God has sent us. There is, however, among the catholic parishes hope, vision, growth, and a number of new exciting initiatives. And I know that this is not just the case in Durham but across the parishes in the dioceses of the Northern Province.
The second thing Bishop Glyn said is to mention the difficulty of recruiting priests to serve in the North. Attracting priests to serve in the North is a difficulty not just for the Society parishes but for the Church in general. When it comes to vacancies, I think we have to pay tribute to the faithfulness and stoicism of the laity, especially those in leadership roles, who shoulder more and more responsibility, and do so with cheerfulness and faith, and of course to the retired priests, as well as those serving in non-stipendiary roles and chaplaincies, without whom these parishes wouldn’t survive the vacancies at all.
Third, Bishop Glyn wanted to mention our young priests. He cannot give enough praise to them for offering themselves for discernment and for ordained life, and for bringing to our constituency a freshness and a new enthusiasm and joy to the priesthood, which inspires us old lads to keep going and of course brings new life to the Church. Also, to those who are in training and in the process of discernment, listening to God’s voice and seeking his will for them.
The fourth heading I have is Mutual Flourishing. This is something that Bishop Glyn encourages us all to do to the fullest extent. As in so many things, he leads us by example. While the traditionalist Chapter of Our Lady and St Cuthbert in the Diocese of Durham meets regularly, most clergy also make it a priority to be involved in their local deanery chapters and to engage with the deanery synod and the diocesan synod, in order to ensure that mutual flourishing is a reality for us all. The bishops in the North look very favourably upon us for doing that.
The fifth thing that Bishop Glyn mentioned is to share a little of my experience, and that of others, of the Bread for the World conference in the summer. I have to confess that when someone says there’s going to be a conference my heart sinks. We recently had a diocesan conference, and at times I identified with what a priest said in another place while attending a similar event – that he felt like an ecumenical observer. However, the Bread for the World conference was something quite different. It was absolutely brilliant: I couldn’t believe it. If it happens again and you weren’t there last time, make sure you go next time.
And the last – the sixth commandment: Bishop Glyn is today at Cuthbert House in Durham, addressing enquirers, potential ordinands, and those recently recommended for training about mutual flourishing. Some time ago a potential ordinand from my parish was sent by the Diocesan Director of Ordinands on a placement within the Diocese to a ‘different kind of parish’ (if I can put it that way), to find that the vicar had never heard of the Five Guiding Principles and the lady curate, who had heard of them, had never read them.
Father Paul Kennedy is the Bishop of Beverley’s Representative in the Diocese of Durham. This review was given to the Forward in Faith National Assembly.