Pastoral Development
Archdiocese of Liverpool response to next stage of Vatican Synod
minute read
April 10, 2024

The first Archdiocesan Synodal Council (ASC) has been almost two years in the planning. It involved people, priests, deacons, bishops, religious and laypeople, from all across the archdiocese.

It got its mandate from the Pastoral Plan which in its turn was the fruit of the Archdiocesan Synod held in June 2021. The Synod was the culmination of four years of prayer, meeting, planning, listening and discerning.

It is an attempt to put into place a body that will keep alive the commitment made to be a Synodal Church. At its heart is this truth – that God speaks to the Church if we listen to the voices of all the baptised.

It is this that drives the Synodal vision of Pope Francis – it is this that has led to the creation of the Archdiocesan Synodal Council. Archbishop Malcolm presided over the first meeting of his Archdiocesan Synodal Council on 25 November 2023.

The Pastoral Plan of the Archdiocese launched after the Diocesan Synod in June 2021 was the main agenda for the first Archdiocesan Synodal Council. The Members (110) were invited to reflect on the initiatives that had taken place since the Pastoral Plan was launched in Advent 2021 and to hold to account what has developed (or not!)

Some of the main points in relation to synodality flowing from the ASC gathering were:

Becoming a church where synodality is embedded

·       Commit to looking at governance structures across the archdiocese ensuring transparency.

The Archbishop’s Council has been replaced by the Archbishop’s Advisory Group which now includes lay women and men, deacons, religious, and priests, with the canonical functions being transferred to the Chapter of Canons.

How do we ensure that all parishes and all diocesan structures are embracing our Pastoral Plan commitment to synodality? It was clear from the responses made that some are worried about places where there is no engagement for varied reasons.

There was a realisation that we have not clearly communicated the path on which we are walking. If we are going to set up new structures we must support those who give of their time and energy to enable these to work effectively.

 Becoming a church that renews its organisational structures and administers its property to serve its mission

·       Equip all in the Families of Parishes to capture and share the vision involved in their development particularly in relation to our use of resources and our environmental responsibilities.

·       Review how we are operating synodally in every level of archdiocesan life and work.

It is clear that many people felt that we are trying to talk the talk, but not walking the walk! We are not being as bold and creative as we have been encouraged to be.  Formation is called for to enable this.

Are buildings more important than people and mission? There is a commitment to making Families of Parishes work – but questions about the support needed to make this happen. What is our mission? What is the reason we do all we are doing? We are being called to make this clear for all.

 Becoming a church that accompanies people through life

·       Clarify what is meant (and not meant) by accompaniment and how this relates to synodality and communicate this to all parishes, plus a structure and plan to implement accompaniment across the archdiocese.

·       Develop programmes to identify the different accompaniment needs of various specific groups (e.g. parents with young children, marriage preparation, elderly, those in mixed marriages, those freshly graduated, catechists, social action groups, sick, disabled, divorced &separated, LGBTQ+, bereaved, single parents, those struggling with cost of living, prisoners and their families, families with children or adults with special needs, supporting Catholic children in special schools or in non-Catholic schools, teachers, etc.)

Many of the comments in this Area put at the heart of accompaniment a renewed encounter with Christ. The importance of formation looms large especially for those entrusted with ministries – catechists being just one example. A comment raised a question for reflection: Why would anyone want to be accompanied by us?

 The ecumenical flavour of the whole process emphasised by the invitation to the Anglican Bishop of Warrington to open the Archdiocesan Synodal Council has been a vital part of our journey into synodality.

Synodality has also be reflected in our ecumenical endeavours which include shared schools, covenanted parishes, joint social action, prayer groups and formation initiatives as well as consultation on buildings issues.

 Outside the work of the ASC there have been some significant local initiatives.

 Deanery Synodal Councils (DSC) - with lay leadership and both lay and clergy members representing parishes in each Deanery - have been set up across the archdiocese.  They have formed constructive dialogical relationships and engaged in prayerful discernment of the priorities the church in their area should be addressing.

For example, one Deanery has identified three priorities for mission: (1) youth,(2) outreach to the needy and (3) adult faith formation.

ADSC has provided a talk on ‘What is synodality all about?’ The text of this talk was then made available more widely both on parish websites and at the back of churches.  

This was followed up by a well-attended consultation meeting to explore our perceptions of the nature and scope of adult faith formation, why it is needed, and areas/topics where people felt we should cooperate more closely across the parishes.  

A summary of what emerged from this consultation meeting was provided for all parishes, followed soon after by a two-page list of resources – websites, agencies, and literature – to support individuals and groups involved in adult faith formation.  

Deanery Synodal Councils have taken a lead in proposing to the Archbishop the new Families of Parishes. These 42 groupings of parishes have been discerned using a truly synodal process and have now been ratified by the Archbishop.

A Family of Parishes Steering Group has been established made up of lay and clerical members to ensure that the voice of all is continually being heard and instrumental in the proposed developments.

Families of Parishes have been encouraged to develop their relationship through prayer and action – each family being invited to name and develop one common project or piece of work to be completed within the next 12 months.

Some parishes have embraced synodal ways of working in their Parish Pastoral Councils.

The creation of a new Council of Deacons, which mirrors the canonical Council of Priests, (and which included Deacon’s spouses) was a major fruit of the synodal process in the Archdiocese and should be highlighted.

There have been some hard questions as this local synodality has been developed. Time and time again people say we have not communicated the idea (s) clearly enough.

There is not a clearly developed understanding of what synodality is, of how to work synodally. This is an issue for both clergy and laity in general. Priests need to feel that synodality is a plus, it is not taking something away from them.

The work on care of priests and encouraging their engagement in synodality as well as the need to support and resource them has been reinforced. Mentoring, accompaniment, peer support, pastoral care and creative initiatives have been encouraged.

The listening process where all clergy were able to be involved had been extremely fruitful and the base for developing the ongoing work on “Becoming a Church that cares for its priests.”

 We are becoming a church on the road together….