We’re facing challenges at the moment due to the rate at which our parish is growing — it’s great to be in this position, of course — but various responses are demanded of us: these are some of them.
We will soon be increasing the number of Eucharistic Ministers at Sunday Mass from 5 (including me) to 8: 2 ministers at the front of church with ciboria, and 2 with chalices; at the back of church, 2 ministers with ciboria, and 2 with chalices.
As we now regularly have over 30 children in the Children’s Liturgy, we will be introducing registration forms, and monitoring who is present (we need parents’ contact details, and childrens’ special medical needs, for example). Safeguarding procedures are being implemented gradually. More on this in another posting.
From next Sunday, 29th November, we are introducing Prayers of the Faithful prepared by members of the congregation; the Prayers of the People will be written by the people. We are in the early stages of this ‘innovation’, but already the signs are good. I am receiving from the PoF group well composed, liturgically aware prayers; this will be an enrichment of our celebration of the liturgy of the word.
Regularly now we have around a dozen servers at Sunday Mass (the numbers for the vigil Mass vary). More than ever, we need to focus on training the servers, so they can serve Mass with dignity and reverence, with a deeper understanding of the ministry they perform, and to help them understand that they minister as part of a team. We will shortly be introducing a rota for parents whose presence before Mass will be to help organise the servers, maintain an atmosphere of calm (my prayers are with them on this one!) and see to their vesting with their albs and cinctures. We are scheduling a training session soon for new servers, and a further session in January for all servers.
Every time we come to Mass we pass a group/team of people at the church door who are begging for money. Should we give? As a parish we have decided to make a considered response: how can we best serve those in immediate need, those in need of longer term support, and those who are in desperate situations because of some local, regional or national emergency. Our parish council is in the process of nominating a working group who will consider requests for aid, and will make recommendations as to how we respond. As always, a strategic approach, whilst taking longer to formulate, is more effective than a knee-jerk response. In addition, this week the government has passed new guidelines which seek to restrict organised groups from demanding money from passers-by. Hopefully, this will help to make entering St Alphonse less intimidating for all who visit the church, who currently have to pass through one such group, gathered closely round the door. We are in the process of forming a parish-council group who will assess local and wider demands on our attention, time and resources, and propose to the council how best we should respond.
As previously noted, although we are the English-speaking parish, we are probably the most international parish in the Grand Duchy — a poll at one recent Mass registered over 40 different nationalities present. Whilst this is a richness and an opportunity, it also presents a challenge: how can we best serve such a variety of nationalities and cultures, whilst still retaining our linguistic integrity? We have a number of approaches to this question, regarding focusing on Mass settings rather than hymns (which we still have, of course, but it is difficult to establish a common repertoire), having printed Mass-sheets with readings and prayers, offering Confession, Baptisms and marriages in English and French. We are continuing to explore how best to ‘keep our borders open’ to all who are drawn to join us.
Many couples who come to us for Marriage Preparation and Baptism Preparation come because they are from different countries, but share English as their common language. Not only must we seek to offer accessible courses, but equally we have to facilitate translation of various documents from English into a broad variety of languages. Official diocesan forms are in French, German and Latin: we have to add English, and provide translations into, for example, Polish, Latvian, Croatian, Slovakian…. etc. Happily we have the infrastructure, made up of volunteers, which enables us to do this without too much difficulty. Nevertheless, it remains a challenge — and a sign of our unity-in-diversity. Shortly we will be introducing our adult-catechesis group, which will further resource our community and welcome new members.
Occupying the space
Our relocation to St Alphonse over two years ago has been one factor in our growth, yet it too presents its challenges. We share a church with the French-speaking congregation (Saturday 6pm, Sunday 10pm, and weekdays), the German/Luxembourgish congregation (Sunday 8.30am), and the many Portuguese/Italian/Maltese/Polish/Lithuanian/Spanish/etc… -speaking people who join us each day for Mass. As by far the biggest language-group, we sometimes run the risk of swamping the other communities: we set up our tea-coffee tables during the French 10am Mass, we reserve space for our childrens’ liturgy, we have our shoe-box stall, our Mass card/book stall and so on. All that we do is meant to be inclusive (e.g.. all image slide shows playing over the weekend on the behind-altar screen are non-language specific) but we have to be mindful that we occupy shared space, and are but part of the Church in the city and country.
At times the administrative demands of the parish are overwhelming: the sheer amount of paperwork, the time needed for all our meetings, preparation and follow-ups to meetings etc is enormous. Happily we now have a parish assistant who is able to help with various aspects of parish life, and we have a renewed parish council, eager to face into the challenges ahead. More on the parish council in a future post.
Over 50 years ago, the English/French/Dutch/German-speaking communities were organised into the Paroisse Européenne. This structure is now woefully outdated, and we are in the process (in accord with the thinking of the archbishop) of establishing new legal and canonical (Church law) structures that better reflect and represent our current reality. As with all the areas noted above, our new structures are being shaped around community, mission and growth — we are not an end in ourselves, but a part of the wider mission of the Church. It is not easy dismantling the structures that have served us in the past and re-casting them better to serve the future, but it is a necessary task. Yet another challenge for our parish council! It has become increasingly clear in recent months that other Christian communities in Luxembourg are taking notice of what we are about, and how we are approaching our mission — we are always happy to share with other communities, to pool resources and to learn from them.
We approach the forthcoming Year of Mercy in a spirit of gratitude for all that God has given to our community over the years, and a spirit of supplication for God’s guidance in the years to come.