- “Sometimes we get confused and caught up in the conundrum of volunteer and paid – both are deeply valued; both are highly professional and both speak to the heart of the story of parish in 2014. Let us never suggest that our volunteers are not exceptionally professional in their approach and their work” – Bishop Nulty
- “The Church is about more than tragedy or death, it’s about living, where faith is nourished, expressed and shared; we need to address the living bit!” – Bishop Nulty
It’s my pleasure to welcome all of you to this the second conference organised by Alpha Ireland taking the theme around the word “Rebuilt”, following last year’s theme “Reaching the Nation”. I was delighted when the lot fell on me to open this year’s conference. Why?- because I read Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s book some time back – ‘the story of a Catholic Parish: Rebuilt – awakening the faithful; reaching the lost; making church matter’. Any of us engaged in parish life have at times asked questions like why we do what we do, when so many seem to disengage so easily and so readily. All of us who are immersed in the story of parish can empathise with the struggles, the strains, the stresses evident in the Church of the Nativity in Baltimore in the States.
Here this evening in Maynooth University, I am brought back to my days studying geography in first arts. One of our lecturers then was PJ Duffy. Writing on the shape of the parish he reminds us “the territorial history of the parish raises a number of issues. Not only is there the importance of territoriality and spatial coherence, as manifested in the parish, but also the implications for a territorial community, territorial allegiance and identity”. Let’s look at what a parish is – it is a very durable and adaptable institution. There are 56 parishes in our Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin. I have invested time and energy visiting all those parishes over the past thirteen months. Each one has a character of its own. Yesterday I visited Killeigh in County Offaly. Interestingly Killeigh is the largest geographical parish in our Diocese and the second largest in Ireland; earlier today I was in Rosenallis in the north of County Laois and tomorrow I will be in Saint Mullin’s in the most southerly tip of County Carlow. A parish defines who we are, what school we send our children to, what club we play our football with, where we want to be buried – a parish gives us an identity. I reminded you earlier that I had read Michael and Tom’s book and that was during my time as Parish Priest in Saint Mary’s, Drogheda, before my appointment to Kildare & Leighlin – in Saint Mary’s, Drogheda it was often remarked “oh, she’s from the far side” – the ‘far side’ wasn’t that comic strip created by Gary Larson, but simply a stone’s throw away across the River Boyne! How possessive we get about territory and identity. Recent debates and discussions around clustering and parish pastoral areas demonstrate the huge affection a community has for their place, their space, their territory. Close a Church and suddenly everyone wants to practice!
Alpha Ireland is to be commended for bringing Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran to Ireland to address this Conference. Father Michael and Tom, the priest and the lay minister,represent all that is positive about collaboration in the parish team model of 2014. Tonight I want to pay tribute to, and applaud the multitude of volunteers who keep the parish spirit alive in every corner of this land. Sometimes we get confused and caught up in the conundrum of volunteer and paid – both are deeply valued; both are highly professional and both speak to the heart of the story of parish in 2014. Let us never suggest that our volunteers are not exceptionally professional in their approach and their work. Many people talk today about the new evangelisation, more speak about the renewal of the Irish Church, all of this in the context of a more critical climate and too many shifting sands. The story of renewal must be rooted at ground level;it’s never going to be an imposed top-down renewal; it must be homegrown, a renewal that springs from a strong foundation in all our parishes.This conference I suggest will speak to this theme.
When horrendous tragedy or turmoil hits a community, who do the media gravitate towards? – the local parish, the local priest, the local lay minister. I think of the consoling presence of Father Tom Naughton, the curate in Charleville in County Cork around the O’Driscoll family in recent days; over in the United States, I think of the family of the freelance war correspondent James Foley. His parents John and Diane paid great tribute to the support and prayers of their local parish as they came to terms with the horrific death of James at the hands of terrorists. There is no doubting how comforting and consoling faith is at a time of death, when even those disengaged from parish life still want a church funeral with all the rituals attached.
The Church is about more than tragedy or death, it’s about living, where faith is nourished, expressed and shared; we need to address the living bit! We need to move from a consumer model to one of active participation, while still taking on some of the standards more akin to the consumer world and applying best practices or ‘Q’ marks to our parishes and team workers. Renewal means engaging in conversation about all that is good and there is so much to be encouraged and affirmed in all our parishes. And that’s what a conference like this is about.
On visiting Killeigh last Tuesday morning, I arrived a little earlier than planned and scoured as I like to do, the church notice board. How notices are presented in the church porch tells me a lot about a parish. Are there up to date contact numbers for the child safeguarding representatives? Is the Knock, the Lough Derg, the Holy Land poster telling me about this year’s season of activities or is it about last year’s or even the year before? Can I find something that speaks to me about suicide support, bereavement counselling or substance abuse? Or is one poster vying with another for space? On a crowded board, nothing is noticed. A poster that caught my eye was the title of this September’s Dominican Distance Learning programme:‘Don’t just go to Church: Be the Church’. That’s very much our challenge.
This evening we begin the conversation as we hear the Rebuilt Story as told by Father Michael and Tom. Tomorrow that conversation continues, offering us tools for the rebuilding, presenting an Irish Case Study, in other words showing that this can work and does work in an Irish context and finally together planning for the rebuilding. But there is an even more important issue which is not on the programme flyer. What happens when we return to our own parishes? Can we implement something of what we have heard, learned or experienced. If we can, this Conference may be the most important one we have attended. My prayer and hope as I declare the Conference open,is that it will indeed live up to all our expectations. Once again I thank Peter, Father Patrick and the Alpha Team for stimulating this conversation and organising this conference.
Notes to Editors
- Bishop Denis Nulty is Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin. The above opening address is to be delivered by Bishop Nulty at Alpha Ireland’s Rebuilt Conference which takes place in Maynooth University. The Rebuilt Conference takes place in Maynooth from 10-11 September 2014. Please see www.alphaireland.org
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444