Small Dioceses

Interesting article from Fr Hunwicke – Dioceses.

In some of the southern Italian dioceses, the Bishop is as accessible as a parish priest and there is virtually no bureaucracy beyond a secretary / archivist and a bursar. This is one thing I love about the ACC and my Diocese in England. I would hate to be in one of those big Roman Catholic dioceses where it’s all management and bureaucracy, even in the big pastoral sectors that have replaced the old parishes (or rather grouped them together).

I believe that our marginal little Churches are a prophetic sign for the future.

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13 Responses to Small Dioceses

  1. raitchi2 says:

    It’s very frustrating to be in an archdiocese (Chicago). There are currently 378 parishes in my archdiocese. My Archbishop couldn’t even do a confirmation once a day at every parish in a year. There have been for quite some time six vicariate bishops. Why do I want someone who’s a half-bishop overseeing me and doing our confirmations? Just break the diocese into more manageable parts.

    • I could be facetious and advise you to wait until they improve their computer system to take human decisions out of the loop. Pastoral Information Technology for your Salvation? Like here in France, they could just close the whole thing down and let the regeneration happen from grass roots… The mind boggles.

      You are right, more dioceses and less bureaucracy / management.

    • Dale says:

      Or, better yet, simply have the parish priest confirm at baptism.

      • ed pacht says:

        When the Episcopal Church was arguing over the adoption of the Eastern custom, I, then a member, was initially all in favor of it. No longer. The Western custom has the enormous advantage of ensuring that everyone, at least once, receives direct personal sacramental ministration from his bishop and chief pastor. This pretty much requires small dioceses like those of Southern Italy (or like those of the Continuing Anglican churches – larger in area but smaller in numbers). Over time dioceses became larger and bishops became primarily administrators and only secondarily pastors, a sad state of affairs. I think the necessity of a bishop for confirmation was always a counter-influence to that trend. The administrators were being constantly drawn back to the pastoral role. This has been an important dynamic in the Western tradition and I do not favor changing it, but rather strengthening it by bringing the bishop closer to his people in smaller and more personal dioceses.

      • Dale says:

        I really do not know when this tradition became mistakenly “Eastern,” it is quite ancient in both East as well as West. In Hispanic Catholicism, especially in Latin America, it was the tradition until quite recently.

      • Father Gregory says:

        Indeed. This would – for one thing – immediately undo the abuse that First Communion is received before Christian Initiation (Baptism-Confirmation) has been completed. Initiation is the gateway to Communion … I would also agree with you that the correct use of Christian Initiation is *not* an “Eastern” thing. Separating Baptism-Confirmation-Communion has always struck me as an abuse to be corrected. Still does.

        I also agree with Fr. Chadwick that small dioceses are much to be preferred over huge ones. However, the multiplication of dioceses (and therefore Bishops) seems really difficult in a time when Churches are mostly shrinking and are becoming increasingly marginalized …, I sometimes wonder what the Church of the future will look like? Smaller, perhaps insignificant on a larger stage? But perhaps that would/could lead to some “purification” in the Church? I mean a more sober Christianity could also – I hope – become a more vital Christianity. I think this may have been one of the things the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov was trying to say in his “Lectures on Divine Humanity” – that religion cannot be one of the “things we do among other things” (such as belonging a football club, or the historical society etc.) God must be the very center from which we live or it isn’t Christianity. I think the point was made in one of the early Chapters.

        I suppose I would like Fr. Chadwick to elaborate on what it could mean for marginal Churches to be prophetic? I suppose I am, being by nature prone to anxiety (I will readily admit that), wondering if the future holds a promise? And if that has implications for our ministry and witness to “evangelize” the world around us? I say this mindful of the fact that returning to Europe (Netherlands) where there is no ACC presence at all it will challenging and i will be even deprived of a beautiful Chapel for the equally gorgeous Sarum Use … What would our ministry look like mindful of such a marginal future Chuch? Do we say have our Parish or Missions in our bedroom closets? Do we simply submit to Rome or Constantinople? What is our role as ACC? I am not trying to be clever but I am struggling with these questions and your – Fr. Chadwick – post made me think and wonder. I suppose I still think of the Church as “big and global” and am not sure how to think differently.

        Gregory Wassen +

      • What does it could mean for marginal Churches to be prophetic? This blog contains the best part of a thousand articles, and you can use the “search” box or the categories in the right sidebar to find the gist of my thought in these matters.

        What is it about a monastery that is different from a big urban parish where everything is about teamwork and management? I suppose a good analogy would be buying your food from a small family farm rather than the promethean supermarket chains and intensive factory farms all over the world. I am suspicious of any Church that is financially supported and politically influenced by the State (or the European Union or whatever).

        My central idea is living our lives around the core of liturgy and spiritual life, and getting on with life as best we can with an anti-conformist and essentially cynical (ancient Greek meaning of the word) and anarchist view. Of course, authority, law and policing are needed – but they are for the bene esse of society, not its being. Not all of us in the ACC would agree on this. For example, my Bishop is a conservative and a monarchist. I probably would be too if I lived in England and were well-established. My life is different from his. That being said, he and I are both self-employed and are opposed to excessive state interference in the lives of ordinary people working hard and earning a living. I think he and I would also be opposed to a return to feudalism run by private banks and big business.

        Enough of politics! The point of a small community or Church (ecclesial community lead by a bishop with priests under his jurisdiction) is like the small farm or shop next to the big supermarket chain and factory farms. The small Church gives priority to spirituality and Christian witness, and the large one is concerned for its institutional coherence and efficiency. Any large organisation is run by an impersonal and anonymous bureaucracy.

        The future doesn’t belong to us. In any case, we face our own deaths and that fact should bring us to put our talents to good use and fulfil our vocations. We also hope to make the world better for our short stay on it rather than worse.

        All Churches are becoming marginal, including the Roman Catholic Church. Attendance percentages are in the single figures in France and other countries like Belgium. Most people I know are “hard” atheists, and those who express an interest in “spirituality” or any worldview other than materialism are in the minority. What do we do? Move to a more religious country? Put up with our lot and do what we can?

        Whether we say Mass in our bedroom closets or in a chapel depends on us. My chapel is the result of my own work and expense. The Church is no longer big and global. It is found here and there from cathedrals and big city parishes to people like you or I. We don’t have very much choice. I think that our role as a Church is to worship God through the liturgy and be available for the very few people who might call on us as priests.

        There is also the option of giving up or joining one of the “big” Churches. You can live in a big city and become a number in their statistics. You are useful if you have money for them. That is about it. I have seen people convert to Rome or Orthodoxy and just seem to go through years of waiting for something. What can we answer to the atheists? Not a lot. We just keep going however hopeless it all seems.

      • Father Gregory says:

        Thank you Father. Politics is part of our lives and for my part I care deeply about the Dutch Royal House and wish it had more “power” while paradoxically I am also quite far to the left on economic issues. It’s never been an issue in Dutch Christian circles … Now try the United States (I am not unhappy about leaving soon).

        Two things really leaped out at me in what you wrote:

        1.”The small Church gives priority to spirituality and Christian witness, and the large one is concerned for its institutional coherence and efficiency. Any large organisation is run by an impersonal and anonymous bureaucracy.”

        That is a very good insight it seems to me. I suppose it is what I was trying to formulate with my clumsy remark on “purification.” Perhaps our marginalization will deprive us of a “Christian culture” around us and so instead of depending on it to “shape: us we will be thrown back to ourselves and take the responsibility for “formation.” I dunno – just thinking out loud.

        2. ” I think that our role as a Church is to worship God through the liturgy and be available for the very few people who might call on us as priests.”

        I have found that – in the Netherlands or in America – worship & liturgy interest very few people. I mean not many go to Church. Increasingly Christians read their bibles in housegroups, and get their “worship” at Christian Gospel concerts. Yet when i dress in clericals and go out like that people frequently approach and want to be “ministered” to. Often they are surprised to hear of the depth and variety of answers that the Christian tradition has for issues they live with today!

        Would it be fait to say that your suggestion here is that Christians and their clergy ought to “simply” Christian lives In depth so that the few who are “looking” can be found?

        Anyway, thank you for your reply and I will search through you blog!

        Gregory +

      • Dale says:

        Yes, Fr Gregory, I also always found it strange that in especially Roman Catholicism young children, usually at seven-years of age, receive their first communion, and then are not confirmed until often years later, or if ever. What I also find strange, is that this disconnect is considered to be quite normal.

        And for me the return to the ancient tradition is not something eastern, it is simply the ancient Catholic practice.

  2. What you speak of as being the case in Italy also prevails in Greece.

    Bishop Kallistos Ware writes in “The Orthodox Church”, “Greek dioceses of today, as in the primitive Church, are small: there are 78 (contrast Russia before 1917, with 67 dioceses for 100 million faithful) and in north Greece many dioceses contain less than 100 parishes. In ideal and often in reality, the Greek bishop is not merely a distant administrator, but an accessible figure with whom his flock can have personal contact, and in whom the poor and simple freely confide, calling daily in large numbers for practical as well as spiritual advice.”

    When all is said and done, the bishop remains the shepherd of his flock. Change is called for wherever this has ceased to be the case in reality.

    • And please note that in the Greek Orthodox Church, the ancient pattern of baptism, chrismation, and first holy communion, all administered in one liturgy to infants and others by the parish priest, is that which prevails.

    • Father Gregory says:

      Have you read “The Church of the Holy Spirit” by Fr. N. Afanasieff? You may enjoy it ….

      • Thanks for the recommendation, Father Gregory (How shall we differentiate ourselves?)

        Dale, as I understand it, this came about because of the habit of delaying Confirmation and not administering first Holy Communion until someone had indeed been confirmed. Pius X, as part of his program “to restore all things in Christ,” granted permission for, and even mandated that, children begin receiving when they had reached “the age of reason”, thought to be usually at the age of 7 even without Confirmation. His desire, apparently, was that all Roman Catholics receive daily. Why he did not also move up the age of Confirmation is not completely clear. In any event, he was inspired in part by the example of Ellen Organ, “Little Nellie of Holy God,” (Aug. 24, 1903 – Feb. 2, 1908) an Irish child who died at age 4, but whose devotion was such that she requested and was granted what was then the privilege of receiving Holy Communion without Confirmation at such a young age since she was deemed to have reached the age of reason and was found to be properly disposed. (You can Google her. I would post a link to the Wikipedia article, but I don’t want this comment to get hung up in the Spam folder.)

        Now of course the ancient practice disregards the question of the age of reason entirely and IMHO, rightly so.

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