Yesterday our new curate arrived in the parish. He is the second Nigerian priest to work with me here but the first member of a Religious Congregation. He was brought to the parish by the Provincial who spoke about the work of his order in England and our conversation gave me much food for thought.
While many dioceses are coming to terms with a reduced number of priests and in some places the trauma of closing or amalgamating parishes, in Southwark we have been relatively unscathed. London has always been a popular place for priests to study and over the years we have benefitted from a growing number of visitors who help out in parishes, particularly at weekends, in return for a place to stay while they study. This has developed and there is also now a good number of priests from abroad getting full-time pastoral experience over here before they return to their home dioceses. This has meant that it has been possible to spread our 'home-grown' clergy more thinly. Indeed, in our deanery all our assistant priests have come from abroad.
What I hadn't really appreciated is that we have now gone a stage further and that a significant number of our parishes have now passed from the hands of diocesan clergy to religious congregations from abroad.
I, for one, hadn't realised the full extent to which we have been cushioned and have now become dependent upon the help we are receiving from outside these shores. What it means is that the shortage of ordinations for our diocese is more serious than we are perhaps aware and that, without the assistance of foreign clergy, we too would be faced with closing and amalgamating parishes.
So what should our response be? I think in part it has to be simply one of recognising the urgency of the situation: when the chips are down people act. Some readers of this Blog may have been toying with the idea of a vocation for some time, waiting for a sign, or putting the question off. Apart from the theological aspect of resisting God's will, dithering is no longer a luxury we can afford!