In 2010 Bishop Drainey highlighted the fact that in the next 5-6 years there is likely to be only one priest to cover the Redcar, Marske and Saltburn area, which currently has a Mass attendance of approximately 1000. This presented the need for a substantial change in the way in which parishioners in this area are served by its clergy.
In January 2011 a pastoral letter from the Bishop was read out at all Masses in the parishes of Sacred Heart, St William, St Alban, St Bede, Marske and Our Lady of Lourdes Saltburn. In that letter the Bishop spelled out more specifically the challenges facing the Catholic community in this area:
It has to be recognised that the age-profile of priests in our diocese is rising quickly and the numbers are falling even more quickly…..I would expect that in the next six years there will be only one priest to serve in this area. We should also bear in mind that whatever is decided it will have ramifications beyond the boundaries of the aforementioned parishes. For the moment, though, my thoughts are to exclude Saltburn from any re-organisation but I would appreciate your views on that. Whatever we do we need to be guided by the following principles: Pastoral and sacramental care needs of the of the Catholic and Mass-going population of the area are met. Apostolic work and evangelisation in the area is better encouraged and enabled, so that the mission of the Church is realised. The vision behind the changes should provide for the next twenty to twenty five years.
Acknowledging the complexity and sensitivity of the task Bishop Drainey invited a team from the Centre for Catholic Studies at the University of Durham, which has significant experience in empirical analysis of the Church in the context of Catholic tradition and theology, to carry out a consultative study which would assist him in discerning a constructive way forward. This study would be structured around a series of basic options identified through the collation of a substantial amount of practical information available locally and collated John Gillis, a retired Town Planner and parishioner of St Albans.
Discussion of these options would provide a structure within which the parish consultation could effectively take place. Once consultation with as many parish members as possible had taken place the team would prepare an analysis and recommendations for the Bishop’s consideration. A final proposal would then be made by him to the members of all those parishes concerned.
The following executive summary details the outcomes of the consultative process and recommendations to the Bishop for a way forward to meet the needs of parishioners in the next five to ten years.
Consultation on the proposed Redcar Parishes Reorganisation Executive Summary and Recommendations Commissioned by Middlesbrough Diocese Undertaken by Dr Kath Smith and Mr Jim Darlington Associate Researchers Centre for Catholic Studies June 2011 Executive Summary
The Basic Issue to be addressed:
What is the most effective way of managing the following situation? By 2016/7 there is likely to be only one priest available to cover the Redcar, Marske and Saltburn area, which currently has a Mass attendance of approximately 1000, served by 4 priests in 7 church buildings.
The Starting Point: Undertake a Consultation with Parishioners and consider their views:
A re-organisation working party met in late 2010 to plan the consultative process and analyse factual data collected from local sources that had a bearing on any potential re-organisation. Five options emerged from these discussions:
- Do nothing
- Retain two of the existing churches with enhanced facilities
- Build a new church and retain one of the existing churches as a chapel of ease
- Build a new church and a new satellite church
- Build a single new church
These options were to be put to as many of the 1000 Mass-goers as possible to give them an opportunity to offer their views and opinions on them. The information gained would assist the Bishop in his decision-making.
The Extent of the Consultation Process:
- An open meeting attended by over 230 parishioners at which over 50 additional written comments were received from attendees.
- Consultation after each of the eleven Masses which take place in the Redcar, Marske, Saltburn area each weekend to explain the options, listen to parishioners comments and answer specific questions. In total approximately 600 parishioners attended.
- Additional meetings with the four parish priests, three head teachers of Catholic schools and a group of students from Sacred Heart RC High School.
- Extra written submissions were made by a number of parishioners.
All of this material has been assimilated into the following report but the key issues raised can be summarised as follows :-
Workload for a Single Priest : -
There was considerable concern raised about the ability of a single priest to serve the needs of a parish of 1000 people. It was felt that the pressures of such a large parish would need to be shared by both a deacon and the increased role and engagement of the laity. The priest should not be over-burdened with additional Diocesan responsibilities.
Justification for a New Church : -
A significant number of parishioners questioned the option to build a new church on the grounds of cost, sustainability and numbers. Any final decision must be clear that provision is being made on a sustainable basis for a realistic number of Catholics in the area.
Role of the Laity : -
There was general recognition that the proposed changes would require the wider involvement of the laity whatever building option was chosen. Further urgent consideration needed to be given to the training, preparation and development of the laity.
Access and Transport : -
The issue of access and transport was raised at every consultation meeting. This was seen as a particular problem for the elderly and those without access to a car and the limited provision of public transport was seen as a significant factor which could affect church attendance in the future.
Loss of Smaller Community Parishes : -
Parishioners are concerned about their ability to relate to a larger parish which they see as being less personal. This was particularly expressed in the Marske, Saltburn and Brotton areas. Whilst they could see the justification for a new church for Redcar, they felt no affinity towards it and would be reluctant to travel there, making alternative arrangements further south in the diocese.
Strength of Educational and Church Links : -
A strong case was made to maintain and enhance the link between the three Catholic schools and a local church. St Bede’s School has a close connection to St Bede’s church and a similar link was seen to be desirable for Sacred Heart and St Benedict’s.
Needs of Young People : -
Many people were concerned that parishes were not doing enough to encourage and involve young people and that the absence of space and facilities for young people to come together was a major problem. This reflects the general observation that many of the existing churches lack any modern facilities for pastoral activities.
Planning the Process of Change:-
A clear message emerged during the consultation that a comprehensive 5 – 10 year plan detailing when and how changes would occur would be of benefit to parishioners. It would enable them to have closure on old arrangements and develop commitment to the new.
Recommendations Emerging in Relation to Options Put Forward
The option of doing nothing had a limited amount of support during the consultation. However maintaining and continuing to use 7 churches when it is known that only one priest will be available in 5/6 years time makes little sense. Doing nothing would create uncertainty for parishioners and undermine the development of the Catholic community in the area. It is recommended that this option be discarded.
The option of retaining two existing churches is only viable if Mass attendance falls significantly or the Bishop is able to find another priest to serve Saltburn and Brotton (as the position is summarised in the recommendations to the main report). Even so, it would do little to reinvigorate Catholicism in the area and makes no provision for youth development and social activities which are so evidently lacking. It is recommended that this option be discarded.
The option of building a new church and retaining one of the existing churches as a satellite or chapel of ease has considerable merit, although the credibility of the new church in terms of capacity and sustainability would have to be clear to parishioners. The Corporation Road site was seen to be the most appropriate to parishioners for a new building that could accommodate extensive facilities. There is a strong case for retaining St. Bede’s in the satellite role because of its existing school links and to address the problems of accessing a new church in Redcar from Marske and surrounding areas. It is recommended that this option is given serious consideration.
The option of building two new churches was seen to be extravagant and unnecessary and was not seriously considered at any point in the consultation process. This option was discarded at a very early stage.
The option of building a single new church in central Redcar that would become a new focus for the Catholic community and provide the youth and community space provision which is urgently needed is possible. However, the probable reluctance of parishioners living outside of Redcar to support the new church makes this option problematic.
An additional option of extending existing churches was raised at two churches during the consultation. However, ongoing assessment and professional consultation continues to indicate that none of the existing church sites are appropriate for such redevelopment. Church extensions are therefore not seen as practical or viable options.
Full copies of the report are available from:
The Curial Office, 50a The Avenue, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough TS5 6QT, Tel: 01642 850505
Pastoral Letter of the Bishop of Middlesbrough to the Parishioners of Sacred Heart, St William, St Augustine Redcar, St Bede Marske and Our Lady of Lourdes Saltburn
After giving consideration to the results of the consultation on the future of the Redcar parishes the Bishop wrote to local parishioners as follows:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As he was to ascend into heaven Jesus gave his great commission and his encouraging promise to his followers: “Go, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” (Matthew 28.18-20). Through the ministry of the Church, this commission and this promise pass to us in our generation. As baptised and confirmed Christians we are called to the same task and gifted for the same mission, as well as spurred on by the same promise. This teaching is not new, it is part of the age old tradition of the Church. Pope Paul VI reminded us that: Evangelising is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelise.[Evangelii Nuntiandi Sec 14] And again: The whole Church is missionary and the work of evangelisation is the work of the whole people of God.[Ad Gentes 35] How good it was, therefore, to meet catechists from this area at the Commissioning Service in July.
I am very grateful to you all for your thoughtful contributions presented to me via the Re-organisation Working Party. I have spent quite some time reflecting and praying over the contents and recommendations. What I am proposing now is very much in the context of my initial remarks on Evangelisation and Mission and also focused through the prism of the following facts and figures which are helpful to keep in mind.
- Based on present numbers of priests and seminarians it is projected that by 2019 there will be 36 active priests working in the diocese of Middlesbrough.
- Figures for Redcar and Cleveland Council show that in the period from 2003-2021 the total population of the area will decrease by 5%, the number of children will fall by 15% and the number of retired + will increase by 21%
- Total Mass attendance in 2010 for all the parishes of Redcar, Marske and Saltburn was just over 1000. Estimated Catholic population of the area is 5700 +
Therefore in the next five years, the number of priests serving in this area will reduce from the present four. Within a year St William’s Dormanstown will close and a spirit of full cooperation and collaboration will start to be developed between the communities of the Sacred Heart and St Augustine’s, and between Our Lady of Lourdes Saltburn and St Bede’s Marske. The Diocese will attempt to purchase land on the Corporation Road site. If there are any propositions as to the future use of the property and land on the St William’s site for the benefit of the local community, these will be seriously considered.
As we progress beyond the next five years the number of priests will be reduced to two. A new Church will be built on the proposed Corporation Road site. St Bede’s Marske will close and Our Lady of Lourdes Saltburn will become a Chapel of Ease. In ten years there will be one priest for the area, who will be based in Redcar; the new Church on the Corporation Rd site will be complete. Sacred Heart and St Augustine’s churches will close, and Our Lady of Lourdes Saltburn will be a Chapel of Ease under the ministry of the sole parish priest based in Redcar. (At weekends therefore, there will eventually be two Masses in the new Redcar church, and one in Saltburn).
As you know I have recently appointed Deacon Bernard Morgan to minister in the parishes of the area. In due course I also plan to nominate and appoint a priest who will oversee the process just outlined. My confident hope is that the new parish priest will be able to lead a reinvigorated Catholic community in the area, supported by a permanent deacon and by your experienced and newly commissioned catechists. The building of a new church, which will have ample space for meetings as well as social functions, should act as an encouragement for your whole community to tackle the situation which the statistics reveal – 1000 practising Catholics out of a total Catholic population of 5700.
Recently we were able to celebrate Holy Mass at the Postgate Rally in Egton Bridge and the celebration was further heightened by the blessing of a new stained glass window dedicated to the memory of our diocesan martyr-priest Blessed Nicholas Postgate. I hope that you might have been able to see pictures of the window in the Catholic Voice. I can’t help but stand in awe and amazement at the courage, faithfulness, perseverance and energy of Blessed Nicholas and his congregation. They understood that without their faith in the Gospel of Jesus, without the nourishment and strength of the Mass and the Sacraments, removed from the support and guidance of the Church, they would be lost. Their missionary zeal was second to none, their living out of the faith was exemplary, their commitment to the Church was valued as much as life itself.
The circumstances in which we find ourselves today as the Church are no less challenging and the opportunities that are offered to us are not less grace-filled as in the time of Blessed Nicholas. Hearing the Lord’s call to mission, and trusting in his promise to be always with us, I have no doubt that we can move forward in blessed hope. Finally, it is good to remember that evangelisation should be the greatest desire of every Christian. If our lives have been changed by the transforming love of Jesus we should be moved to want every person to experience that same love in their lives. As St Paul says, “The love of Christ impels us.”[2 Corinthians 5.14]
With every good wish for the future as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
+ Terence Patrick