Submission from the Diocese of Ferns for

‘Synodality – Towards October 2024’

SECTION 1: How can we imagine the life of the Church in Ireland where people are co-responsible for the Church’s mission in different ways?


Exploring ‘how can we imagine the life of the Church in Ireland’:

Imaginative work that doesn’t inspire personal commitment or collective action or new ‘ways of being’ seriously risks becoming redundant and demoralising. Collaboration must ideally involve authority structures within parishes, pastoral areas and the Diocese represented on the various teams.

There is the deep challenge of navigating between systems that are enduring (i.e. the Church) and systems that are predominantly secular (i.e. the surrounding culture). Yet, striving to create a space for action opens opportunities for faith connections.

We can, with God’s help, promote a grace-filled and hopeful mindset to better understand the fluid interdependence of the universal while also realising that parts can be transformed without waiting for the universal to shift. In this way, we can help reshape the hierarchical image of the Church into a diverse and engaged community of disciples and help transform the surrounding culture through encounter, welcome, companionship and accompaniment by inviting others to share in the peace that a relationship with God brings.

There are many processes or approaches that can help faith groups and communities to creatively imagine a brighter future in ways that are practical and compelling. These include:

  1. prompts from art, literature, scripture, local lore etc to inspire shared possibilities;
  2. pilgrimage and faith experiences that foster spiritual growth;
  3. approaches to visualisation that help us to grasp ideas more easily together;
  4. collaborative tools that depend on the knowledge, experience and wisdom of a group to explore the complexities of specific changes;
  5. learning processes that help us to link immediate possibilities with longer-term transformative change; and
  6. consensus-building approaches that use tailored processes for the different stages of opening out, exploring and coming together.

We can foster imagination in ways that are diverse and inclusive e.g. imaginative prayer. This could involve explorations of both local and universal perspectives to broaden dialogue in a way that generates greater understandings, empathy and healing e.g. spiritual conversations.

A diversity of approaches is especially important between people who hold different opinions, express varied experiences, or possess different mindsets. In today’s world, this path can build up the Church as a sign and symbol of unity amongst the faithful with the help of the Holy Spirit.


Exploring ‘where people are co-responsible for the Church’s mission in different ways’

For many, there is a gap between the diverse expectations of the lay faithful and the leadership of the Church in Ireland. This gap could provide the space to explore co-responsibility, which notes that our baptism imparts full membership in the whole of Christian life and a co-responsibility for the faith community’s being, action and mission.

Strengthening the Local  – A good place to start could be to support Pastoral Councils to empower greater lay leadership within parishes, particularly in terms of the formation of mission-oriented teams of all ages who are open to deepening their relationship with God e.g. hospitality, catechesis, pastoral care or other local ministry. This could also be supported by the development of localised Christian communities within each parish where leadership is shared. These communities provide the laity with opportunities to pray as well as reflect upon Scripture, their life experiences and their shared mission.

Both Pastoral Councils and Small Christian Communities can adopt the principle of “See, Judge, Act” to address issues through the lens of Scripture and relevant Church teaching to participate in the mission of the Church more actively. These provide opportunities for ordained ministers to experience their ministry in a supportive and service-oriented role rather than a clerical leadership role and opportunities for lay leaders to experience a diversity of charisms in a mutually enriching environment that doesn’t become lost amidst a tide of alternative opinions/options. These opportunities reflect communal discernment and synodality as journeying together in communion, participation, and mission.

Mission  – When we experience God’s love for us, we begin to hear God’s call, discern our vocation and become more active in mission. This is the extraordinary difference that faith makes. Such conversion requires a deeper contemplation and reception of the Church as the mystery of communion. This is the sacred reality in which leaders are called to serve and witness with grace and passion (whether they be ordained leaders or lay leaders).

However, in changing times it is particularly challenging to work through the leadership roles that are intrinsic to ordained ministers and the leadership roles that are best suited to the gifts and charisms of the lay faithful. There is a need to offer support for these conversations in local parishes to promote the common priesthood and leadership of the baptised while continuing to value the essential role of the ordained priesthood.

We must support each other to a witness that invites other people into an encounter with Jesus Christ in and through a communion that recognises conversion as a journey, strengthens relationships, builds community, sustains communication, and expresses compassion in ways that opens our hearts to the horizon of wholeness and holiness e.g. Faith Representatives for young people, Spirit youth groups.

Formation  – There is a pressing need to involve lay people of all ages in a diversity of service projects, mission outreach and ministries within the Church. There is genuine interest amongst priests, religious and laity in exploring mission and ministry at local parish level by means of short courses and informal learning. There is also interest in a deeper and broader formation typical of more formal courses.

Ministry Teams  – Team building requires a change in attitude from set ways of doing things to welcome and belonging in the process of building people up in mission and ministry. There is a significant leap from experiencing a personal faith to becoming a representative of the Church community.

A team that relies too heavily on the leadership of a single person risks becoming disillusioned. There are simply too many dimensions to leadership (e.g. vision, team building, strategic mission, skills) for one person to embody. Small, focused teams can provide considerable scope for pastoral action within the overall life of the parish or Diocese. It takes time, skill and intentionality to foster a shared vision and consider how each person is uniquely gifted, to build good teams, to establish specific roles, and to facilitate the right atmosphere for creative teamwork.

While each parish team can encourage shared leadership, there is also a need for specific leadership to ensure that the team is working well and that actions are co-ordinated within the overall vision of the Parish, Pastoral Area, Diocese, national faith context and universal Church. This differentiated co-responsibility requires ongoing formation for clergy, religious and laity.

Conclusion of Section 1 – Imagining differentiated co-responsibility for the Church’s mission requires collective reflection upon lived experience and formation: to scope out possibilities, to strengthen connections, to grow relationally, to learn together and to contemplate deeply the meaning and profound significance of God’s love in our lives, both personally and communally.


SECTION 2: A brief testimony of the work carried out and the experiences lived, sharing any good practice for the growth of a missionary synodal dynamism.

As we embark on the second phase of our synodal path I set out on a journey around the Diocese of Ferns. My lens is set to focus on signs of synodality already present, to focus on ways I see of people being together and supporting each other as we seek to fan the flame of faith in our living and worshipping, as we seek to live our faith and baptismal mission as fully and holistically as we can in the reality of today.

My first stop is St Mary’s Church of Ireland Enniscorthy where bishops of different denominations lead prayer for unity among Christians. I am reminded of other times members of different Churches came together to listen to each other: of a day of retreat recently held for members of different Churches and indeed the women’s breakfast last September which was attended by over 100 women from three Churches – Methodist, Church of Ireland and Catholic.

I next drop in to one of the many consultation sessions held with the Bishop throughout the diocese, sometimes at deanery level and sometimes in smaller groups. I hear the explanation of plans to move from parish to pastoral area and promote team work among priests. These sessions are open to all and people get opportunity to express fears, resistances, hopes and needs for clarification. Feedback is taken on board in the ongoing work.

On a weekday morning I drop in to a country Church and find two lay women leading a liturgy. Their confidence, prayerfulness and respect create an experience worth remembering. Afterwards there is a cup of tea, a weekly event, in the pastoral Centre. I have a sense that for some present it is their weekly social outing and there was a great sense of belonging and welcome. At another country Church the buzz at a craft fair shouts the word ‘community’

I next happened upon a gathering of about forty – a support morning for leaders of prayer groups throughout the diocese. A few years ago the Diocesan Pastoral Council launched an initiative to encourage and help set up groups of prayer and support throughout the diocese. The heart of these would be reflection and prayer on our lived experience and related to the scriptures and they would help to keep a community alive and active with less dependence on the presence of the priest. The theme of this morning was ‘Fan into flame the gift that God has given you (1 Timothy) and began with a reflection on the gift of our Baptism.  There followed a conversation in the Spirit on ‘How is the Holy Spirit, working through our prayer groups, helping us on the journey of building belonging, participation and fanning the flame of faith in our community?’

Strains can be heard from a Peace Choir preparing and practising. Not only do they provide music to enrich liturgies but as one member said ‘a great bond has grown between us’. There are a number of liturgies throughout the diocese enriched by the work of wonderful choirs.

A Parish Pastoral Council welcomed me. This group has been together for just over a year. It is obvious that the young layman leading the group draws each member in and encourages open discussion. The outreach of the pastoral team to those who are alone or ill is obviously an important part of their ministry. The plan to participate in and be a faith presence in the coming Fleadh Ceoil generates a lot of discussion and a collaboration with other bodies.

In the Pastoral Centre in Wexford I meet a group of thirty people from all over the diocese who have volunteered to follow the two-year programme offered by Maynooth University to train Catechists and Pastoral workers. These are now being guided in a discernment process in preparation for beginning the course in September. Their willingness and the willingness of many others to offer themselves for various roles and tasks shows an enthusiasm for a new way of being The People of God and their readiness to play their part to bring it to life.

 Dropping into a Spirit Youth Group session I was struck by the sound of laughter. Spirit is a group that meets once a week for 4th/TY students from the various post-primary schools. It is a Diocesan faith-based group which runs a 40-week personal and spiritual development programme which allows a space for teenagers to first figure out who they are and where they are at and do it all within a spirit of openness, friendship, food and fun. To quote their leader ‘The basis of all we do is to provide as many doors as possible to enable our young people to connect with God. These spaces bring with them a sense of community, a sense of unity, joy, peace and love in an era of distraction.’

I end up in the Bishops residence where a meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council is in progress. Using the ‘Conversation in the Spirit’ method of the synod as their way of proceeding this body seeks to identify and reflect upon needs of the diocese and initiate and support appropriate action. I note the presence of people from different cultural backgrounds, the beginnings of an effort to represent the cultural diversity in the community. Meetings between this body and the Council of Priests aim to foster co-responsibility.

Of course we know that is not the full picture. What I have seen on my journey does not include the majority of believers. The opinions, concerns and vision for our future Church held by young people and those who may not give expression to faith in traditional ways need to be heard.  A sign of synodality is the fact that people voice their questions and unless they are heard and responded to I would have great concerns for the Church in our diocese and elsewhere for the future. There are questions about what is happening about the place of women in the Church and hopes that women and men will be treated with equality in all decision making and all ministries including ordination. Many wonder how we can put the central gift of the Eucharist before regulations which hinder its availability. Others have questions around inclusivity and welcome for difference. As we continue the journey we pray that we may face these issues with courage and openness to the Holy Spirit.

 At many levels efforts are being made to move into team work, efforts need to be made to include and to clarify roles and expectations. We have a way to go and hurdles to overcome. There is also a real sense of the Holy Spirit leading and lessening the need among many to see clear outcomes. In Faith, we continue the journey towards building a sense of belonging of co-responsibility and of mission rooted in our Baptism. There are small signs seen in the ways we are together, in our prayer and worship and in our growing openness to difference and the richness of diversity.