BY Peter Diamond | February 22 2019 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Parishes to be revitalised as priests embrace ‘revolutionary’ renovation

Priests across Scotland are embracing a ‘revolutionary’ new programme to save them from ‘drowning in administration’ and help parishioners rediscover their purpose to be disciples of Jesus.

Parishes in Aberdeen, Paisley, Glasgow, Motherwell, and St Andrews & Edinburgh dioceses have been exploring Divine Renovation, a programme created by Scots-born Fr James Mallon, who now serves in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

His best selling book Divine Renovation: From A Maintenance To A Missional Parish challenges parishes to ‘rethink our models of parish life, from membership-based communities to assemblies of disciples of Jesus who proclaim and share the good news with all peoples.’

Fr Keith Hererra, parish priest of St Mary’s Cathedral in Aberdeen, said the programme, ‘has revolutionised my priesthood’ and that he has already seen the benefits of it within the parish community.

He discovered the programme after meeting Fr Mallon at a leadership conference in London.

Fr Hererra said that as Catholics in Scotland ‘we are great at Baptising, marrying and burying people’ but we have forgotten to make ‘missionary disciples.’

“Priests were not ordained to become caretakers—we want to bring people to Jesus, to his very heart,” he added.

“People want to see the Church being the Church because we cannot go on with the status quo of gradually shrinking—its madness.”

A group of over 30 Divine Renovation ‘leaders’ from Scotland travelled to a first conference in the UK for the programme from February 7 to 8. Five bishops from the UK attended including Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen Diocese.

Fr Hererra said: “Divine Renovation represents parish life in a new and fresh approach. The book looks at the fundamentals, which as Catholics many of us have forgotten.

“As priests I believe we all do our best and it is our one desire to bring people to the Lord. But somewhere along the journey we have become drowned in administration, and often all we do is maintenance. But we are called to be missionary disciples.

“So one of the key questions I asked myself as a priest was ‘how do we do that? How can I make missionary disciples within the parish? And Divine Renovation is presently the answer.

“We are a shrinking number and mission requires change, which is difficult and takes time, but we are in this for the long haul.”

Fr Hererra joined the Divine Renovation network in February last year and said the experience has been ‘life-changing.’

“This last year there has been somewhat of a revolution within my own priesthood and I am embracing it,” he said.

A Divine Renovation leadership team of six people has now been formed in the diocese, and the programme has been liked with Alpha courses at St Mary’s Cathedral—a series of sessions exploring the Catholic and Christian faith.

Fr Hererra said the programmes have given a boost to numbers enrolling in The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

The ‘vision’ of the parish, Fr Hererra said, is now ‘to encourage parishioners to become active in Faith again, to develop more Catholic Christian outreach programmes in the near future and to create missionary disciples.’

Across Scotland

In St Andrew’s & Edinburgh Archdiocese there are a number of parishes involved in Divine Renovation at different stages of implementation including in the Peebles, Falkirk and the South Edinburgh cluster.

In Galashiels at Our Lady & St Andrew parish cluster, parish priest Fr Nick Welsh said they were at an early stage in exploring Divine Renovation.

In Paisley Diocese St John Bosco’s Church, Erskine have started reading Divine Renovation and in Motherwell Diocese the parish of Sacred Heart and St Aloysius’ Chapelhall have started selling the books with a view to reading them as a parish group.

In Glasgow Archdiocese there are a number of parishes involved in the programme including St Peter’s Partick, St Paul’s Whiteinch and Immaculate Conception Church, Maryhill.

Fr Jim Lawlor, parish priest of Immaculate Conception, said: “125 people from the parish bought the book over Advent and since then we have started our group.

It’s a kind of pastoral tool to reenergise our education of what it means to be Catholic and remind us the great things that the Church was made for.

“It has been a bit of a groundswell movement so far. We are basically flagging up that we cannot be content with the parish life that we have, which has parallels with what Pope Francis has been saying about New Evangelisation. We need to be trying new ways of parish life.

“Pope Francis’ challenge to become missionary disciples is talked about within Divine Renovation when he asks us to engage in that direct encounter with Jesus, which I think through this programme we will try and facilitate. We need to create better facilities for prayer and then people can put it into practice.”


Fr Lawlor said he believes Divine Renovation has been embraced in part because of ‘the bad news within the Church in recent years—the abuse and the scandal.’

“My feeling is that the parish positive reaction to Divine Renovation programme is about reinvigorating our parish out of that moment of crisis and saying ‘this is our Church and we need to create another spring time,” he said.

“We are using it because we have been searching for a pastoral tool to develop pastoral care and we believe this is the right thing to do.

“The next chapter we’ll read within the book is called ‘house of pain’ and it focuses heavily on the child abuse crisis.

“I think the impression is that our credibility is down but people need to remember that the Church is not just the clergy—we all need to take responsibility for changing and shaping the future path of the Church and within Divine Renovation there is great enthusiasm for that.

“Ultimately it’s about people making a definite commitment to becoming more aware of parish needs and then becoming active.”

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