The Future of the Church — our Calling.David Williams is a parishioner at St Mary’s, Harborne. He is in training to become a Permanent Deacon. Here he reflects on his vocation
What is the future of the church- our calling!
The church in the 21st Century, we are told, will need the participation of the laity and the lower orders of the clergy to increase significantly to aid the pastoral care of the faithful. Vocations to the priesthood have steadily decreased over the past few decades, but recently this decrease has slowed down and in recent years numbers have begun to rise. Our own Augustinian province now has 3 new students who have begun their formation at Oscott College and in due course, God willing, will be ordained as priests.
A desire to ‘do something’
Many of us, at some time in our lives, will have had the feeling of being ‘led’ along a path that we would not have expected. We may have set or have been set targets that seem impossible to fulfil or we may have felt an ever increasing feeling to ‘do something’. After a period of discernment and prayer, the impossible will suddenly become possible, doors that are slammed shut will be opened and the rough road we see ahead will be smoothed out.
Five years ago I found myself in this position, with the help of Fr. George Donaghy, Fr. Terry Fee and the friars in Harborne; I soon began to discern what was happening to me. After many talks with Fr. George I felt that the Holy Spirit was telling me that there was something for me to do. Fr. Terry’s wise advice to me was to begin a course of study, training to be a parish catechist at the Maryvale Institute. This took 2 years and allowed me to continue my discernment, although in my heart I knew what I was to do. In 2008 I formally applied to the Archdiocese of Birmingham asking that I be considered for the Permanent Diaconate, I was assessed, interviewed and accepted, beginning my studies, like our 3 new students, at Oscott College in September 2009.
The training currently takes a minimum of four years and much like a seminarian covers the four strands of formation, which cover the human, intellectual, pastoral and spiritual needs of each student. We meet at college once a month usually on a Saturday but we also spend some weekends as a community. During our formation days we spend a lot of time praying together, in the mornings we also have classes in different subjects submitting eight assignments each academic year and three times a year we have skills sessions. Each afternoon is taken up by seminars with different speakers covering subjects as diverse as counselling, public speaking, safeguarding and speaking with young people. There is also a period of time to talk with a mentor who helps with study and any problems that one may have. During the third and fourth years, time will be spent in a different parish and also with a chaplaincy at a school, hospital or prison.
Most students, married, with family, full-time jobs, active in the parish
Most students are married; many with young families, there are currently 30 who are being formed in Birmingham. The majority work full time and are also very active within their parishes. The odds very often seem impossible: in February I had to wake at 4 a.m. one Saturday morning so that I could complete an assignment that had to be handed in at 9 a.m., but with the help of the Holy Spirit what may seem impossible odds can and will be overcome.
Ordination and then …
I have just over a year of study left, God willing, before ordination. I will then be able to assist the priests in many of their duties including visiting the housebound, catechesis, baptisms, funerals and in the liturgy. My acceptance of vocation along with Arthur, Gladson and Klement’s is important to the church, but so is the vocation of each and every person in the church. God is calling us all to a vocation. Many things need to be done: the church needs cleaners, welcomers, ushers, readers, altar servers, musicians, catechists, gardeners, people who organise refreshments, plumbers, electricians and even permanent deacons. All we need to do is recognise our calling and act upon it so that the grace of God may work in his and our church.
The Body of Christ: many members, many skills
The Catholic Church of the future will be a church of many people, with many different skills, who are actively involved in all aspects of the maintenance and liturgy of the whole body of Christ and by doing this we will all help our new and future students in their ministries enriching all our lives in Christ our Lord.David Williams, St. Mary’s Parish, Harborne.