About three thousand people joined the first Christian community on the first day Peter preached: a success story. Many of us can remember the 1960s, when thousands of people came to Mass in churches like ours. An entry in the parish yearbook for 1964 describes the annual parish mission, with the church filled to capacity every night for two weeks: ‘the altar rails were crowded and communicants were numbered in thousands’. The average Mass attendance for the Archdiocese of Liverpool in 1960 was 262,000. Last year it was 46,879. The Church in the UK, and other Western nations, has been going through a period of decline in numbers, though in other parts of the world it is growing rapidly.
We are asking you again to fill in survey forms to help in making sure that we provide a service that is appropriate to the needs of this community. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s, new churches were opened and extra Masses were added to accommodate the growing numbers of people coming to Mass. As those numbers have declined by 80%, we have closed only a few churches and reduced the number of Masses slightly, so we are looking again at what is needed now. I can assure you that there is no plan to close St Teresa’s, but we do need to consider whether, with a capacity of over 450 and an average of only 386 attending each weekend, we still need three Masses.
Numbers are only part of the story. There have been many other changes in the life of the church and some of them are positive. We may regret that only one priest serves St Teresa’s when there were eight in the early 1960s (and nine in 1965!) but there were no permanent deacons then and today we have funeral ministers, Eucharistic ministers and many other roles for lay people to take up in the mission of the Church. As I wrote last week, new members are joining our parish all the time and we are finding new ways of engaging with the needs of our local community.
Jesus is still our shepherd and he is still calling his sheep by name. Some may have gone astray and it is our task to make sure that they can hear his voice, so that all can, in Peter’s words, come back to the shepherd and guardian of our souls.