A Pastoral Letter on the Changing Shape of Parishes in the Diocese of Lancaster

Dear Friends,

For my blog this week please read the important Pastoral Letter (below).

Thank you, as always, for your great support and prayers,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster





Appointed to be read aloud and distributed at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 11/12 February 2017

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,


As many of you will be aware, I have continued with the gradual and yet most necessary task of pastoral planning for the shape of our Diocese by the linking and merging of parishes as circumstances have suggested. In doing this, with your support, I have aimed to build-upon the diocesan Fit for Mission?[1] Review that completed its work just as I arrived into the Diocese.  You will, of course, realise from this consultation and the subsequent decisions, that the life of the Church here in the Diocese cannot simply continue without significant changes to the shape of our parishes. Thus, you will understand that we are acting now so as to ensure that the next generation will be able to do God’s work effectively in the years to come.


I am mindful, too, of the need for us to face, with honesty, the general pastoral scene of smaller, older and scattered congregations worshipping at Mass so faithfully in our Diocese. Consequently, there also seems to be a certain slowing down in financial giving and volunteering in some of our parishes with just a few teenagers and young people involved in parish life. This latter rather painful observation has obvious ramifications for the promotion and fostering of priestly vocations.


At parish level it is now not so uncommon for parishes to struggle in getting an organist for Sunday Mass, or to have an inadequate numbers of servers, readers etc. or insufficient catechists for children’s liturgy or for the Confirmation programme. Others are struggling with finding a new Safeguarding or Health & Safety representative or to sustain themselves financially. On the other hand, where communities share and come together so much more is possible!


For so long our Diocese has been blessed with so many home-grown priests. That is no longer the case and, as Bishop, I have to take account of that reality. We have far fewer priests to tend to the still substantial network of parishes crowned in the peak of the pastoral expansion experienced here in the 1970’s.  Undeniably, we do have far too many churches for our present needs and numbers and the financial cost of maintaining and repairing these buildings – some of them more than a century old, is now proving prohibitive for our people and their pastors.


All of this makes for a particularly challenging and delicate task in matching our personnel with the parishes available.  In fact, in order to maintain our present level of service, in recent years, I have worked to welcome and integrate the ministry of a number of overseas priests who have taken responsibility for a number of our parishes and diocesan roles.


It has certainly been worth the effort, as I estimate that without their service some 8-10 parishes would have had to close in my time as Diocesan Bishop.


In the southern part of the Diocese there is still the luxury of multiple Sunday Masses in different churches – many at the same or similar time – to choose from, all within reasonable if not easy-reach from each other.  Such widespread availability of Masses and churches will not be able to continue indefinitely, and either me or my successor will have to make many more changes to the current parish configuration and this will call upon your understanding, flexibility and spirit of sacrifice.


It seems increasingly important that each and every parish:


  • continue and strengthen its effort in the promotion of vocations to the Priesthood, through prayer, encouragement, and especially Eucharistic adoration
  • refocus and reaffirm its pastoral priorities – so as to ensure that as well as sound liturgy at Mass we provide some concrete outreach to the poor and the lapsed, have fruitful relations with our parish school(s), have provision for Catholic young people and good sacramental catechesis
  • look beyond its immediate boundaries, so as to share talents and resources with neighbouring parishes – including – as a matter of urgency – a better coordination of Mass times
  • ensure a high level of collaboration for service among parishioners – without neglecting the gift of the priestly leadership for each community.
  • check if it needs to make any necessary changes to become more financially and pastorally sustainable – with a renewed openness to linking and merging so as to eventually form larger and more vibrant parishes


I have no wish to paint a gloomy picture here. Far from it; as well as celebrating the many gifts and talents of our committed clergy and parishioners, I want to let you know that painstaking efforts have been made to welcome and integrate into the Diocese new and young Religious Communities in Carlisle, Preston, Grasmere and Keswick (at Castlerigg) and soon in Blackpool so that even with fewer priests the presence and witness to the Risen Lord is anchored in varied communities of the Diocese going forward.


I have tried, too, to ensure that the city of Preston is not left abandoned by the Church – either by securing the ancient legacy of Ladyewell Shrine with the Holy Family Fathers and Brothers of the Youth and the saving of both St Ignatius’ church as a new Cathedral for the new Syro-Malabar Eparchy and the iconic St Walburge’s church – now open for prayer each day under the diligent care of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.


God is drawing us all more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. The changes needed will, of course, involve moments of personal loss as some parishes are linked and merged with others and other churches closed – but even these become redemptive when viewed through the eyes of faith.


Sisters and brothers, I trust this letter has been helpful to appraise you of the serious challenges and fresh opportunities we face as a Diocese at this moment and to enlist your support. Certainly, if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit and to trust in the Providence of our heavenly Father, we can indeed follow Christ into the future with the confidence that comes from a deep and lasting faith in Him.


With my renewed thanks for your great understanding, loyalty and support and with an assurance of my own prayers and a blessing,


As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

[1] http://www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Proposals.pdf