Council of Laity


 Report of the Hexham and Newcastle Council of Laity meeting
12th March 16

The day commenced with Mass at 9:30am.

The Chaplain, Fr Jeff Dodds, then led opening prayers.

The Chair, Mrs Julia Firbank, welcomed everyone and introduced new members, told us what was happening during the day and advised that two members of the Council had been nominated to serve on the Steering Group – she asked if there were any other nominations (there weren’t) and we voted unanimously that these two people would serve on the Steering Group.

  • Council of Laity StatutesFollowing the recent review of the Statutes, there have been some minor amendments to the draft shared at the last meeting, to clarify how parishes are represented (para 2.4) and to remove the Chancellor as a regular member of the Council (para 2.3).  The Council ratified the statutes.

    Elections to the Steering Group

    There are 2 vacancies on the Steering Group, and the Council elected John Hardy and Phil Salkeld.

    Spiritual Accompaniment (Chris Smith)

    Forward Together in Hope and the Year of Mercy are calling us to explore our journey towards discipleship, and this should be underpinned by prayer and spirituality.  The Diocese has a group of clergy and laity who are trained in accompanying people on their journey in faith, and Chris can set up one to one meetings for anyone who is looking for this accompaniment.  The benefits are in exploring the individual’s relationship with God and how it affects everything and is not separate from the rest of life.  The training is a year long, and there are trained people at various locations in the Diocese.

    The Council believes there would be real interest in similar provision for children and young people.  The programme is not currently set up to address this need, although some of the schools are providing training for teachers to explore different ways of praying, e.g. using silence, with the children.

    Forward Together in Hope (Fr. Jim O’Keeffe and Tony Sacco)

    The team updated the Council on progress so far.

    • Fr. Jim is confident of receiving 148 completed parish questionnaires, from 150 parishes.
    • 1720 responses to the individual questionnaire are being reviewed by a team of 17 volunteers.
    • 5500 young people’s surveys were received.  They have not yet been fully analysed but an initial view of the results shows some interesting facts.  Of those young people who go to church, the most common reasons are that they feel welcome and like to part of the community.  Of those who no longer go to church, the most common reason is that they find it boring, with only 3% saying that they are concerned about what their friends might think.
    • The team are currently recruiting a data analyst (short term contract) a lay co-ordinator to facilitate training and development of lay leaders and someone to lead on capacity building in relation to parish property (including property management and how best to use property for community support).
    • Plans for the next few months include feedback to each parish on their questionnaire, open meetings in each deanery and parishes working together on partnership plans.
    • A new leaflet will be distributed in parishes on 2/3 April.

    Ensuring the Council of Laity is effective

    At the last CoL meeting Fr. Simon asked everyone to answer a short questionnaire about the CoL and how effective it is. Following on from that discussion, the Steering Group decided that it would be good to have a more detailed discussion, to give people the chance to share their views and ideas, and to come up with some specific recommendations which the Steering Group will take forward to ensure that the agenda for future meetings covers the issues which are important to the Council.

    The Forward Together in Hope discussions, both at the CoL and at Parish level, have been very productive, so some of the FTiH questions have been adapted for the discussion.  The discussion summary is attached separately.

    Bishop’s business

    The Year of Mercy

    Events in the Diocese got off to a good start, with a day including Mass, a talk from the Bishop, confession and exposition, on 8 December. On 13 December, a Holy Door was opened in the Cathedral.

    A series of events, calling the Diocese to prayer and looking at missionary discipleship took place at the Cathedral, in Sunderland, Alnwick, Hebburn and Hartlepool, and the evangelisation team and spirituality department are running celebrations of mercy at 10 locations.  There are also plans for interfaith evenings as part of the Year of Mercy programme.

    Meeting with the northern Bishops

    Bishop Seamus is raising the question of timing of vigil Masses with the northern Bishops.  Some of the clergy in the most remote parts of Northumberland are considering the best way to make travel between the churches manageable, and have asked about celebrating vigil Masses as early as noon on Saturday.

    Religious Leaders and Council of Faiths

    Bishop Seamus continues to work with the other religious leaders on issues such as foodbanks.  The group have good links with local police forces who discuss with them any local issues which may lead to tensions in the community.

    On Ash Wednesday, Bishop Seamus distributed ashes in the street in Sunderland with the Bishop of Durham.

    Update from the Council of Priests

    The Council of Priests has now been restructured. There are 2 Deans appointed from each vicariate and the priests elect a representative from the other deaneries in the vicariate.  The smaller Council is organised appropriately for a good level of discussion.  There will also be an assembly for deacons.

    The Council of Priests recently discussed

    • guidelines for the use of recorded music at funerals.  This was referred to the Liturgy commission
    • commissioning of under 18s as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  This is an excellent witness to the young people in the congregation.  Under 18s would be commissioned for ministry in churches and schools only, not for visiting the sick.


    Dates of next meetings;            


  • 29 October 2016         Day of Recollection – Fr. Eamon Mulcahy
  • 26 November 2016     Joint Councils (venue to be confirmed)