BJHN Parish Forum: Notes

Blessed John Henry Newman Parish Forum Notes


“Heart speaks to Heart”

John Henry Newman


All were welcomed and thanked for giving up their Friday evening to attend.   Fr Jude opened the forum with a prayer.


Purpose of meeting

The Strategy Group explained that the meeting was not about: telling everyone about imminent changes, Mass time changes, which churches may or may not close, as the Strategy Group had not reached that point.  The meeting was about: starting a dialogue between the Strategy Group and parishioners, one which would continue and develop. The Strategy Group wanted to share what stage it was at, our approach and vision and the need to move forward toward a common goal.



Clarifying questions were welcomed during presentations with substantive questions later.  Paper/post it notes were available for questions and comments.  Latter would be collated and a written response would be available in all 4 churches.  Any Strategy Group member could be approached and asked questions or offered comments and any complaints could be addressed to Steve Gill, the chairman of the Strategy Group.


Opening Comments

The Strategy Group members have been drawn from the 4 church communities but their role is not to champion their church but to work for the best outcome for the new BJHN parish.  Change is difficult for all, including the Strategy Group, but parishioners are encouraged to adopt a “glass half full and could yet be filled to overflowing” rather than the “glass half empty” approach.  This was an ideal opportunity to develop existing talents and resources and achieve things that we could not as individual churches.  We were building a future for our children and grandchildren.  In doing this it is important that we listen to each other, share our thoughts and work together.


Strategy Group

Fr Innocent explained that Bishop Peter, having formed BJHN parish, wanted us to build a thriving Catholic Community.  The Bishop has mandated that BJHN must have 1 priest from September 2012 with a maximum of 3 Masses each weekend.  The Bishop has arranged for Fr Jude to be with us for a period of 2 years as a stopgap measure.  Fr Innocent explained that the previous year, before Father Jude arrived, it was very hard for him and he had to get help from other priests on an ad hoc basis.  That was simply not sustainable and the Bishop wanted to improve this so a more visionary approach could be possible.  With reduced vocations, it was something of a luxury for us to have 2 priests; other bigger parishes have only 1.  Bishop Peter is aware of the distinctness of each church and their signatory Ministries and he wants us to keep those and grow.  The Bishop does not want to impose a solution; he wants us to look for a solution taking into account the strengths that already exist in each church.  The Bishop had suggested that a Strategy Group should be formed to do this work and Fr Innocent agreed that it was needed.  Fr Innocent explained that he had personally chosen the Strategy Group members and thanked them for their hard work.  He thanked, in particular, Angela O’Connell, the Group’s facilitator and Steve Gill, the chairman.  Fr Innocent emphasised that a thriving Catholic Community was based on service, where love defined everything, where there was mutual respect, generosity of talents, time and money. He added that love, faith, loyalty, obedience and service were the Church’s trade marks and that whilst listening was important, the Church was not a complete democracy.  He ended by saying that we needed to respect and celebrate one another’s talents.



The Vision and the Strategy

The Strategy Group explained that the BJHN Vision had been drawn from a number of sources: Blessed John Henry Newman and his valuing of individuals and his focus on education and evangelisation; the fact that change was inevitable, but not necessarily a bad thing; the need to build a thriving parish with 1 priest by 2012; the Bishop’s Walking Humbly initiative where the marks of a thriving Catholic community were identified; the Pastoral Area Vision which set out each Church’s strengths and weaknesses; the Diocesan ‘Givens’ i.e. what the Bishop has said we must have: sacramental provision, liturgical provision and evangelisation.  We tried to include elements from all these references and make it as inclusive as possible.


Strategy Group members had been getting to know each other and form a unified group.  At the moment, the Group was gathering information and by the end of this summer we should have draft plans for 1 priest by 2012 which would be made available.  Implementation of this part of the plan would start in January 2012 and would be complete by September 2012.  Beyond the plans for ‘1 Parish, 1 priest’, the Strategy Group is reviewing every element of what constitutes a ‘Thriving Catholic Community’ in High Wycombe and would be proposing long-term strategies to ensure we achieve our goal. There will be regular progress checks, in particular to ensure that are plans are on track and that we are not losing parishioners. 


Meeting attendees were invited to fill in the forms provided to identify who they were and their role in their church and also to raise any questions or comments so written answers could be provided to all churches in due course.  We needed to know what people were good at and what groups exist so that we don’t want to miss anyone out. Information could be submitted opn behalf of those not able to attend. 


The next step for the Group was to plan what to do to achieve a growing, thriving Catholic Community with 1 priest by 2012.  It was accepted that whilst the solution might not please everyone, we would do our best on behalf on the whole Parish.  The changes would not happen overnight and the development would continue ito the future.  The Group would communicate through the parish website, newsletter and meetings as further information becomes available.  The Strategy Group wanted to be transparent and honest and listen to what everyone had to say.    




Strategy Reflection

The Strategy process we’ve heard about is not about managing decline in numbers or strength of community feeling or merely guaranteeing provision of sacraments.  We are planning for growth well beyond the 2012 short-term imperative.


Questions and comments were invited. The following records those raised during the meeting and those left in writing.  Please note that verbal answers given at the meeting have been reviewed and expanded upon by the Strategy Group to give a fuller and more accurate response as appropriate.


Questions/Comments/Observations- Parish Forum 13 May 2011


1.       Can you share with us the Diocesan Givens?


These are the elements that Bishop Peter said must be maintained in any future strategy: liturgical provision, sacramental preparation and evangelisation. 


2.       Are there any other non-negotiables?

The 1 priest 1 parish by 2012 is the other non-negotiable and the Bishop has also ruled out asking for additional priests (from abroad) or relying on supply priests to fulfil our proposed strategy.


3.       It’s very hard to go out and evangelise when you’re losing so many people (at St. James), it’s hard to accept these losses.  Some are not going to Mass any longer

We are all saddened by the losses at St James. We would like to understand how many people have been lost to other churches within the parish, to other parishes and from the church altogether. If possible, we would like to regain these parishioners soon.  The need to avoid losing parishioners is a priority for the Strategy Group.  We accept that if Mass times change, people will go to other churches, but we want to grow.  The Group’s ambition is not to lose Parishioners but regain and grow.


4.       An immediate task is surely to reach out to those people who have stopped going to Mass.  Not sure if transport is the issue.  You need to set up a Task Force to look after those people.      

We will follow up on this to see what can be done as soon as possible.


5.       Something’s got to give though; we can’t carry on doing everything.

We’ve not reached that point of changing Mass times but it’s true that we can’t overwork our one priest.  All Mass times are up for discussion in order to find the best solution for the parish as a whole.


6.       Have you looked at the Anglican Church; their services are worked on a rotational basis.  Why didn’t the Strategy Group do this before changing the previous Mass times?

We haven’t ruled anything out.  We have researched what other churches have done and looked at Anglican websites.  We will take this option under consideration.  The Strategy Group wasn’t involved in the first decision on Mass times but perhaps rotation wasn’t chosen as it was too complex. 


8.       You could rotate Masses for a whole year to avoid confusion.  St Edmund Campion is losing families with the new Mass time of 1200.  What is your timeline for looking at Mass times?

By August of this year, we must have our proposal ready, so by mid-summer we should have a good idea about this. 


9.      Thank you to the Strategy Group, this is an unpleasant task but don’t fudge around the edges, grasp the nettle, this slow agony is worse.


  1. 10.           There’s not much in the Vision about a single parish community and the need to grow together and come together by praying together.  Your plans seem to be tactical and administrative rather than visionary.

The initial meeting was necessarily a high level overview of the vision and strategy approach.  Subsequent meetings will more deeply examine community growth and development.  Our Vision isn’t about tinkering at the edges and just the 1 parish 1 priest requirement, it’s about long-term growth.  Our planning schedule shows 3 years ahead with a place-holder for continuing this work beyond that.  The Vision starts by saying that we are one family. While we could have written a longer Vision statement, we chose to be succinct so 1 community is implicit in “we are one family in Christ”.   Within the Vision, ‘Through God’s grace’ may be taken at face-value, but every other phrase has a story behind it which we will share with you.  Additionally, the four church communities needn’t completely lose their identities in the new parish structure where it makes sense to retain them.  We’ve covered the need to pray through being “led by the Holy Spirit”, through prayer we ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.


  1. 11.           Why don’t you bite the bullet and just say there will be one building for one community.  Why won’t you say that?

     We are not yet in a position to make a categorical statement about the ultimate structure of our Parish.  We are currently gathering information and reviewing as many different options as possible to identify the best solution for our needs.  The 1 parish 1 priest requirement is about 5% of the Strategy Group’s work; the other 95% is about positive plans to build a thriving Catholic Community.  We are looking for a Vision, a bigger picture that we can all get behind.  Just by way of example of the scope of our deliberations – One idea raised was to sell all the churches and schools properties and re-build the Church, schools and a community centre together in a single location as a Catholic Centre for the town. This Vision is not a prescription for short-term change, it is a blueprint for the future of the Catholic Church in High Wycombe, for us and for our children.  So whilst “one building for one community” is one of the many options under consideration, we are not yet in a position to give out a definitive answer.  We may be able to say more by mid-summer. However, we may also need to arrive at a definition of the nature of this “community” that we propose to create.


12.     These are exciting times, this is an opportunity to target the wider community and get them to church.  You don’t always go to your local shop if you prefer another shop further away.


13.     Congratulations and thank you to the Strategy Group.  This is a difficult job, it’s tough to gather together strangers and then ask them to talk to each other and set out a plan.  We need to listen and learn.  We need opportunities to challenge and propose ideas and suggest what you need to do.  I hope the Group will not be deflected from the Vision by tactical issues as they will cause pain and grief.


14.     It’s important to share with us the story behind the Vision.

The Strategy Group will share our understanding of the Vision with parishioners shortly.


15.     You need to give more time to what ‘community’ means. What      distinguishes a community from a group of people who come together once in a while?  

The Strategy Group will work to establish a common understanding and definition of “community”.


16.     The tone of the Steering Group is important; it’s not here to dictate.  But there are ‘Givens’, there are ‘Non-negotiables’ and it is important these are communicated sensitively.

The Strategy Group will do its best to ensure that all its communications are sensitively handled.


17.     There will be winners and losers, but I lower case ‘i’ s losing parishioners acceptable?

It may be acceptable, although regrettable, if they choose to attend another Catholic Parish, perhaps for reasons of transport and Mass-time convenience, but we would all regard it as a very bad outcome if any parishioners were to stop going to Mass altogether as a result of these changes.


18.     A thriving Catholic Community means that we look to our neighbours; we have become too inward–looking.  As for the suggestion to ‘bite the bullet’, the Pastoral Area Steering Group wanted time to consider the move to 1 parish 1 priest and we were given 2 years, so there’s no need to rush things.  The Group needs to be guided by the Holy Spirit. We need to be forward-looking and we need to be patient.  We need to get it right.  We need to try and bring in non-Catholics too.


19.     The May Fayre was a good start at getting the community together. We met, prayed together and worked together.

We recognise that the May Fayre was successful in this, and also the successful Easter Triduum with members of church communities joining together at one-another’s churches.



20.     We need ‘measurables’ so we can measure what creates a good church.  Part of the Vision ought to be a monetary target, perhaps to raise £1,000 per week or have 15 confirmations a year etc.

Measurables are definitely part of our approach, although we were unable to go into this level of detail in our presentation today.  The Strategic Plan will identify measurable outcomes, spiritual, community and other types, including financial.  It’s early days and we’ve not agreed on specific measurables yet.


21.     This is an incredibly exciting time, an opportunity to build something that could transform what we have.  It’s not just surviving but an opportunity to transform the Catholic Community in High Wycombe.

The 10 year horizon is there to allow us to take the changing situation in High Wycombe into account including that involving St. Augustine’s church too.


22.     Most parishioners will think the Group’s work doesn’t relate to them but it does.  How do we get that message across?

We fully agree that our work is intended to serve all our Parishioners. We need to influence the perceptions of individuals.  It would really help if all parishioners at this meeting were to go back and tell others about the relevance and excitement of the work in front of us.


23.     We are starting to join up together, we are 4 very independent churches, but joining up has started.           


24.     We are still independent churches maybe we need more social events to get together.  This gives us a chance to work together.

The Strategy Group will be looking at social events and what we can do to build social identity and community spirit.                           


Written questions/comments


  1. We want to build a community.  A community often works best within a local area.  With Catholic priests decreasing in future, should the long-term plan involve building a ‘Catholic’ community or a ‘Christian’ community working with other denominations (Anglican, Baptist, Methodist etc) in a local area?  This needs to be clarified when defining what a thriving community is and how we measure its success.


Certainly, the ecumenical relationships with our neighbouring churches will be an important facet of our Parish community and we intend to specify ‘measureables’ to assist us in gauging our success with these relationships.


  1. 7pm is too early start for many people. Promised help with parking at St. Augustine’s not provided.  Why not locate meetings at churches with plentiful parking e.g. OLG?


We are considering other locations, including OLG, for future meetings and will also review the starting and ending times.


  1. Vision statement is very introvert.  Scarcely any mention of evangelisation.


While we could have written a longer Vision statement, we chose to be succinct so, just as becoming one community is implicit in “we are one family in Christ”, so “develop and pass on a living faith” is understood, by the strategy group, to include evangelisation. Also “serve the Lord in … the wider community” includes evangelisation.  Every phrase of the Vision has a story behind it, currently only well-known to the Strategy Group. We will not only share this with parishioners but facilitate reflection on and exploration of the Vision.


  1. Inevitably perhaps, there was much discussion from the floor about Mass times.


  1. Congratulations and thanks to the Strategy Group for their presentation.  Very pleased that the Group chose to focus on ‘creating a vision’ – critical that what is to follow fits into this vision, not made to appear so.  What I sense may be missing (so far) in fashioning and delivering a vision is determining what is meant by ‘community’ and identifying what the essential elements are in it i.e. what distinguishes a ‘community’ from a ‘group’ of people who come together from time to time with a common interest/shared purpose.


The Strategy Group agrees that we have to have a clear definition and common understanding of the nature of the Parish Community that we want to create, as well as that of the wider communities that we should relate to  We also need to be clear about the nature of relationships that we should establish between these communities and the type of participation within them.


  1. I go to St Wulstans.  I don’t know parishioners in the other churches.  It would be nice and I would love to get to know people in other churches.  Would the Strategy team consider a collective Mass as one community either once a month or more?


While we cannot publish specific plans yet, regular collective Mass, as one community, is certainly under consideration as this is known to be successful in like “parish merger” situations elsewhere. 


  1. Continue to be led through God’s spirit.  Jesus made great changes to the communities he visited and people flocked to them.  Develop a community that attracts the existing catholic community and those who are yet to know God’s love.  Traditional, Trendy, Nurturing.


The Strategy Group would like Blessed John Henry Newman Parish to be a welcoming, supportive, loving and nurturing parish, led by the Holy Spirit, that we hope will attract back lapsed Catholics, be a comfortable place for non-Catholic spouses of our parishioners and support evangelisation within the wider community..


  1. Not managing decline but managing change.  Need to focus on the positive, exciting aspects – don’t focus on how uncomfortable we all are (acknowledge that people don’t like change but focus on God’s work that we need to do).


The Strategy Group agrees.


  1. Members of the Strategy Group should come to the front and be properly introduced.


We plan to do this at the next meeting.


  1. How much is all this costing?  Who pays?


Financial Planning is an essential part of the Strategy Group’s task. As a general principle, we don’t want to neuter our aspirations by taking a “we don’t have any money in the parish” approach. Rather, our approach is more along the lines of “we should do X; how can we fund it?” 



Feedback (following refreshments)


A question was put to the parishioners on how we should seek more information from the 4 churches.  It was explained that we were going to provide a “book” for each church so any parishioner could put in comments on the strategy.  It was agreed this was a good idea.  It was suggested that the Strategy Group needed to approach individual parishioners, that the parish website could include the ability to raise questions and the parishioners offer suggestions/answers.  The Group would need to use other forms of communication as many parishioners would not use the website.  Parishioners were also asked to think about how they could help the Group spread the message of what the Group was doing, how the work touches every parishioner, how great the challenges are and  that all parishioners should be represented at these “Parish Forum” meetings.





Over the last 6 months income for the parish as a whole was £39,500 and expenditure was £38,000.  There is no extra money for any unforeseen expenditure e.g. new fence at OLG.  We need to raise more money.  Standing Orders would be encouraged. A parishioner expressed that all this was news to most of us and that regular “finance newsletters” should be considered. The Strategy Group said that they would be looking at finance within the strategy ‘measurables’, and also giving consideration to income generation.  A question was asked if all of the 4 churches ran a 100 Club, as St. James’s do.  Some other churches indeed do this.



The meeting was closed with a prayer of Cardinal Newman’s.

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