St Werburgh's Roman Catholic Parish, Chester

St Werburgh's Chester Parish Renewal: Report to Parish 3rd February 2024

Happy Feast Day, one and all! We celebrate our Patronal Feast of St Werburgh today, and as always give thanks to God for all His blessings over the past 267 years, 1757·2024. The Feast Day also presents a great opportunity for bringing everyone up to date on our Parish Renewal Programme, what we've achieved in the last six months and our plans and hopes for the next six.

Just to remind ourselves of the background: the call to every Parish in the world to take part in the Synod and synodal process in the autumn of 2021 came soon after our own discussions of how best to move out of Covid. Do you remember the four questions we asked everyone: what did we want to start up again, what to start up again but with changes, what to drop, and what to start that we'd never done before? We began by looking at each parish activity individually, and then soon realised we needed to put the whole Parish under the microscope, to see how well we were carrying out our total Mission as this particular part of God's Kingdom on Earth. Which is exactly what the Synod was asking us to do.

We launched two big consultations exercises: your responses to the Synod questions, and a questionnaire asking you which, if any, parish activities you'd like to get more involved in. We had an enormous number of responses to both, and we can't thank you enough for taking the time and trouble to reply. We had four parish Open Meetings, and it was immediately apparent that we needed some single, all-encompassing focus to give unity and coherence to our individual efforts. You told us, loud and clear, that that focus should be WELCOME. Welcome to all our existing parishioners, especially those who do not feel as involved as they would like to. How do we welcome the world out there that never crosses our threshold? Covid showed us what we had been missing and what we were hungry for: community, contact, people, togetherness, the end of isolation, the sense of being a parish family, relating to one another.

"I never really felt part of this parish until I became a Covid steward" was a comment that hit all of us hard. A Missionary Church must be made up of missionary parishes: so, how welcoming and out-reaching are we? A challenging and sometimes uncomfortable question.

A Parish Renewal Steering Group was soon formed, initially to start processing the hundred or so questionnaires through which you told us how you'd like to be more engaged. I cannot thank its four members enough, all volunteers, who have met virtually every Monday morning since: Pat Floate, Marian McCarthy, Bernice Meredith and Lyn Williams. And also several times during the week, not to mention the regular daily snowstorm of emails. Thanks, team!

One of their first successes were those two magnificent wall-displays of how "A Welcoming Parish " would be translated into reality. In no time at all, new teams of Welcomers for the four Sunday Masses were being assembled, followed by new teams for Children's Liturgy, Church Cleaners, Gardeners, IT Tekkies, Readers, Banners, Flowers, Library, Notice Boards, Trips to the Tip, Caterers, Historians, First Holy Communions, Brass and Silver Cleaning, Church Linen ... Many others were up and running, with plenty more ready to be launched in this second half of the Renewal Programme.

This vast infusion of new blood was great for the parish and great for the newbies. New faces bring new ideas, and we've all benefited from dozens of new approaches to our traditional activities. Just to take one example, our Choir. Good before Covid, it's been taken to amazing new levels with a stellar range of wonderful new music and instrumental accompaniment. Never be frightened of new ideas? Youth Mass another example

At the same time, there have been so many completely new initiatives like our Welcome Wednesdays. It's made us look anew at our old Day Chapel and realise we want to reinvent it as a multi-purpose meeting room, from talks to music practices to First Holy Communion Classes to Welcome Wednesdays. If you've not been to one yet, come along soon, and see what you're missing. But let's not lose sight of the unchanging work of any parish that goes on week in, week out, since Adam was a Parish Priest: counting and banking the collection, keeping the books, preparing the music sheets, running off the Newsletters, opening up church every day, ordering the candles, getting the boilers mended, you name it. A multitude of helpers work behind the scenes, as they had to do right through Covid, and we are incredibly grateful to this army of unsung heroes.

The first six months of our Renewal Programme have been a triumphant success, and all of us involved in it have seen the workings of the Holy Spirit. The Renewal Steering Group has a strict twelve-month remit: they started in June 2023 and will be winding up in July 2024. So, what remains to be done? The two key areas we have identified are Communications and Governance, the way we order our affairs and how we let everyone know what's going on, how we talk to the parish and how the parish talks to us. "Governance" is a fancy word for how we're running the parish. Could we run it better? Who's "we"? The days of the PP running the show are long over, if they ever existed. Our Parish Council has been in abeyance since before Covid, and it's a classic example of something we need to start up again but with changes. Should it be elected or chosen by the various groups that have now formed? What's the place for specialist groups like Finance, Health & Safety or Buildings & Maintenance? Does FP need secretarial help and, if so, what sort? How, as a complete parish, can we work not harder but smarter? We communicate through the Newsletter and the Website, but are there other means we need to explore, such as Social Media or interactive blogs? Do we have too many or too few open Parish Meetings? Is FP accessible enough if you want to bend his ear? If every parishioner matters and every parishioner is welcome, do they all feel that, or are those just words on a page?
If we get these structures right, then all the other ideas we have for new or refurbished parish groups will have a clear launch-pad: mental health group, dementia support group, faith-sharing, scripture study, prayer groups, support for the divorced and remarried, support for the LGBT parishioner or for those recently arrived in our country, "welcome back" Masses for the recently married and baptised, on the model of our wonderful Mass for the Recently bereaved, and so on, ad infinitum, as they say in German. If you have an idea, we'll help you get it off the ground. All are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

The Renewal Steering Group are already working hard on models for parish governance, structures and secretarial help. We'd love your ideas and reaction, so do please send them in. We promise you, every single one will be read and carefully considered.

Finally, we cannot sufficiently express our gratitude to all of you for the way you have come on board with this Parish Renewal. If the next six months go half as well as the first, we will have a Parish to thank God for. Our prayer is always that we will hand on our parish to the next generation in at least as good a state as we inherited it. That's the prayer of all of us, but especially of your Parish Priest as his time in St Werburgh's starts to draw to a close. Whoever his successor is will be a lucky so-and-so.

With best wishes and prayers to all of you from all of us,

Pat, Marian, Bernice, Lyn and Fr Paul: 3rd February 2024