25 October 2022, The Tablet

Portsmouth mission plan to reduce 87 parishes to 24

The Diocese of Portsmouth's ten-year mission plan “You Will be My Witnesses” is due to be finalised in January.

Portsmouth mission plan to reduce 87 parishes to 24

The Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, celebrating a Mass in 2015. In his pastoral letter introducing the mission plan, he said: “If the Lord spares me, that is where I believe He wants me to lead our diocese in the decade ahead.”
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales/Mazur

The Diocese of Portsmouth plans to reduce its 87 parishes to 24 over the next five years, as part of a ten-year mission plan for evangelisation.

In a pastoral letter to the diocese on 16 October, the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, says that Christ “never promised that the Church would last in any particular place” as he warns that without significant changes “many, many churches across our diocese will close down”.

While the Church’s “progress [in evangelisation] cannot be measured simply by numbers”, he says that “the numbers have now become so challenging that we have to act more radically”. He notes that parishioners’ average weekly donations across the diocese are £2.35 – “less than a cappuccino”.

Bishop Egan was introducing the diocesan mission plan, “You Will be My Witnesses”. The diocese told The Tablet that it is consulting on the plan across its parishes until mid-December, and the content will be finalised in January.

He emphasises that the structural changes in the plan “will fail without a deep spiritual change in ourselves and in our communities”.

In his “Theological Reflection” on the plan, Bishop Egan warns that “it is always tempting to focus on changing structures and institutions, changing parishes and schools, changing practices and even doctrines”, though he adds that “structural changes, in particular the shift to a more ‘synodal’ way of working, especially in our parishes and communities, is crucial”.

“This is really about ourselves changing, changing ourselves, a deep, radical spiritual renewal as individuals about how we think and live, about how we love others, how we collaborate with one together, and how to take responsibility.”

The plan has two sections. “Christ at the Centre” focuses on reviving participation in the Church through the Mass and sacramental life and “Mission Communities” concerns parish activities and organisation – including details of new diocesan structures.

Bishop Egan has acknowledged that most would focus on the four pages concerning the reduction of parishes.

Under the current plans, the diocese will group its 87 parishes into 24 “pastoral areas”, each containing between two and 13 churches, which will form single parishes by 2028.  Each will have to submit a local plan for this to the bishop by September next year.

Between 2010 and 2019 the diocese has recorded a decline in the number of baptisms by 35 per cent, of confirmations by 40 per cent and marriages by 32 per cent. It has recorded a 44 per cent fall in Mass attendance since 2022.  It also estimates a 63 per cent decline in the number of diocesan priests over the next 20 years and significant financial concerns for its parishes.

The diocese includes urban centres such as Southampton and Portsmouth, large rural areas of Hampshire and Berkshire and the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands.

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