'Not enough ordinands' to replace retiring clergy
Roman Catholic leaders in Garstang have heard they may need to reduce the number of masses said in their parishes if current trends continue.
Delegates at the 8th National Catholic and Rural Conference were told that many of Britain's existing clergy are due to retire over the next 20 years.
They were told there are not enough ordinands to replace them.
They were shown how the church in Norway copes with similar problems by offering fewer masses for each parish.
Journalist and lay preacher Helge Gudheim said: "Our aim is to give every Catholic one mass a month minimum, and it should be said within 50 km of where they live."
Mr Gudheim said these changes are not imminent for Lancashire's churches.
"Here the church has been present for centuries and so it is different as you don't have these vast parishes," he said.
Slimline effective church
However, he acknowledged the same may not be true if trends continue. He said: "In 20 years time you may have to employ a structure where one priest is looking after several parishes."
The foundations for a more slimline effective church are already being laid in Lancashire.
In a New Year pastoral letter, the Bishop of Lancaster, the Right Reverend Michael Campbell, asked his diocese to consider how their efforts can realistically support their churches and schools, whilst at the same time doing all they can to get more Catholics to join or return to the church.
Recent figures suggest there are around 100,000 baptised Catholics in the Lancaster Diocese but significantly less than half of them are regular attendees.
Bishop Campbell wrote: "In 2012 we will need to address some demanding questions that will grow larger the longer we put them off.
"Is it right or sustainable to expect our mass-going population of 21,000 to support our schools and colleges in which often the majority of pupils, and sometimes teachers, are not practising Catholics?
"Is it time for us to admit that we can no longer maintain schools that are Catholic in name only?
"Faced with fewer priests and smaller congregations where should our parishes and schools of the future be located? What will they look like? Where should we consolidate and merge others?"
The Garstang Conference also heard how congregations may have a greater involvement as churches struggle with resources.
Mr Gudheim suggested lay people in parishes that do not have a regular priest will have to do more.
"Where there is not a local priest, we still need a church that is operative and that involves more laity," he said. "That is the kind of system that is working in Norway."
Father Anthony Grimshaw, parish priest at St Mary's in Chipping, said his congregation is already taking a greater role in ceremonial aspects of church life.
He said: "The involvement of the laity in managing, not only services, but also the ministry of the church is important.
"For instance, I am here for two days so there is no celebration of the Eucharist at the church. The laity can't celebrate the Eucharist, but they give out Holy Communion out each morning in my absence.
"They also have readings from the scriptures that we would normally have. In a shorter service that will last around 15 as opposed to 30 minutes they are still able to receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion."
Father Andrew Allman, from St Bernadette's in Bispham, confirmed that the Roman Catholic Church in Lancashire will look different in years to come.
He said: "We cannot do everything that we would like to do, that is the bottom line. We will not be able to keep every church building open for many many more years.
"One or two have already gone and many more will have to go, I don't think there's any doubt about that."
But Mr Allman said the church still needs to keep a welcome for those who may wish to return to the church.
He said: "The Bishop is right to ask us how we prioritise. But within that, we must keep our doors open to those who are not currently at the heart of the church, but also want to maintain some kind of contact."
Joe Wilson presents the faith programme on BBC Radio Lancashire from 06:00 each Sunday.