‘It feels like the whole thing is slipping away’

With churches closing, and numbers falling, Francis Brough, believes the recently-announced synod is coming just in time.

For some time I have participated in a Friday lunchtime Mass, generously hosted by the Anglican Church of St Nicholas in Liverpool. It has become something of an anchor in my life, a chance to give thanks for the week gone and to welcome the weekend to come.


This week, for whatever reason the priest on the rota (and I do hope he is well), did not arrive. A couple of us lingered hoping it was merely a delay until one by one the four or five us began shuffling for the exit. 


What was, I suppose, “just one of those things”, filled me with a sense of sorrow as I ambled back to the office. I am on the younger side of middle age but over the next 20 years or so (if God spares me) this is the way the Church will go. 


Over the years, most of you will have seen attendances dwindle, fewer Masses, parishes closed. The old joke about the benefits of a priestly vocation, in that they only had to work one day a week, is less funny then ever for those men taking care of multiple parishes on top of all the other duties and Herculean responsibilities they must shoulder.  


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As time marches on, there will be fewer Catholics, fewer priests, fewer Masses. In Britain, it sometimes feels like the whole thing is at the beginning of a slipping away. Some still hope for divine revival, but that seems a very draughty hope at the moment.


In Liverpool there has been an attempt to grasp the nettle and we have just been through a synodal process carried out in a thorough and warm-hearted way.

From the outset, however, there was an unspoken apology that certain things, while acknowledged, would be “out of the scope” of the Synod and the authors would not be able to included them in their findings and recommendations. 


No one should pretend the answers are easy or that change is necessarily a good thing. Swapping one set of principles for another will inevitability lead to schism and hasten decline. The Church must never become slave to “fashionable" ideas.


Yet I think we all know that something must be done and all have an idea of what those priorities should be.


This is the hope I have for 2023 when the whole of the Church embarks on the great Synod called by the Holy Father. Everything must be on the table and we must trust the Holy Spirit to guide the discussions and ensure every voice is heard and all viewpoints are honoured, especially the ones we might not necessarily like.


As good Pope Francis eloquently put it, what the Church needs now is the “ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle”.


While I shuffled out of my empty Liverpool church with a sad vision of a way-of-life lost, I feel now there is much to hope and pray for. 


The time to start praying for the Synod is now!