Bishop Ackerman: Resizing, Not Managing Demolition

Bischof Stephan Ackermann im Portrait

Trier clergy in an interview on the state of parish reform in the diocese

Pastoral location instead of large parishes: After much criticism from many sides, parish reform in the Diocese of Trier has taken a different path. In the interview, Bishop Stephen Ackerman talks of a good deal – and explains what he’s expecting from the new structure.

by Mathias Altman | Trier – 14.10.2021

Originally envisaged and initially decided during the Diocesan Synod (2013–2016), the large parishes had many believers not only in the Diocese of Trier, but also the Vatican – which meant that the essential points of parish reform had to be Should have changed. In the future, the diocese will be divided into 35 pastoral rooms, which in turn will include several parish communities: the first 16 of these rooms will begin in early 2022, the remaining 19 will follow a year later. How does the diocese see these new structures – and how does it see itself? Bishop Stephen Ackerman gives an insight.

Question: Bishop Ackermann, instead of the 35 large parishes originally planned, in the future the Diocese of Trier will have 35 pastoral rooms. Does this structure do justice to all – the wishes of the believers, the requirements of the Vatican and the needs of the pastoralists?

Ackerman: I think this decision is a compromise many people can live with. This has been shown in the last few months, when we had many more conversations. There were already voices that said that the units are too big and everything is going too fast. Our idea was basically to consciously take a big step so that it can be enjoyed for as long as possible and not have to re-adjust after a few years. But I think it’s actually a viable option now.

Q: Are you sure that the structures that are built now can last a long time?

Ackerman: We remain in the original direction of the decision taken by the Provincial Synod. It just slows down with small steps.

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Question: The original plan to create 35 large parishes also caused a lot of anger and criticism within the diocese. Do you get the impression that things have smoothed out in the meantime?

Ackerman: A few weeks ago I met again with an initiative that was very critical of the whole thing. Some points were raised there. But it is also clear that things have to evolve first. Then you will see how it works in implementation. Some may have wished for faster steps, others are happy that it is now slower. And of course there will be a part that says that everything should remain as it is until it works. But we want to shape change – and not manage the demolition.

With the construction of 35 pastoral rooms, the diocese of Trier would remain in the original direction of what the synod decided, insisting Bishop Ackermann.

Question: What lessons have you personally learned from the whole debate about big parishes?

Ackerman: You can already see how many emotions are attached to the parishes – in a positive sense. It is related to home. We request: the parish is the more institutional structure that describes a place and provides institutional security. The actual ecclesiastical living space is the community living on the site in a church, with some institutions and groups, old and new with “church spaces”. I think the original problem was that we have few images of church life in the future. It is clear that a lot is going back and needs to be changed. But then to think about what the picture of the future may look like, how to deal with it – it is difficult for many to understand. In this regard, I believe that if we go through several steps, you will see examples of how positive change can be achieved.

Q: When we talk about positive changes – what are you specifically looking forward to?

Ackerman: On the one hand, the effect of coordination is visible in the field of administration. I have been told many times that the administration of the clergy is too much, they should have more clergy. The need for commercialization is also increasing, especially in the areas of employee management, data protection, tax law, and protection concepts against sexual exploitation. At the same time, however, there are fewer and fewer people who are committed to the church or who work for it in the long run.

Another point: in rustic rooms we have church spaces that not only live in the classic setting of the parish, but also offer additional docking points – for example in the diaconal area or concourse. You are not tied to the parish space, but here is your opportunity to contribute according to your interests and charisma.

Question: What are your wishes regarding the cooperation between the parish level and the countryside?

Ackerman: There should be good networking. Of course, the parish remains the original structure. It is not only a question of canon law, but also pastoral coherence. The local church has the parish as its structure – the responsibility of the clergy and those who help shape it on a full-time or voluntary basis. But support structures are needed. And the countryman should be given this space. Will help each other there, that too in terms of the resolutions of the Provincial Synod. Of course, this only works with a binding association. I wish that all this contribute to a new vitality.

The local church has the parish as its structure – the responsibility of the clergy and those who help shape it on a full-time or voluntary basis. But support structures are needed. And the countryman should be given this space.

Q: The parishes are being amalgamated into rustic rooms. Are there diocese guidelines or are there discussions among parishes about what would be useful?

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Ackerman: There is a combination of specialties and preferences on the part of the diocese. The 35 rustic rooms are in line with the originally planned parishes of the future. There should be merger of parganas in the next five years – that is the need. This should preferably be done at the level of the previous parish communities. I have heard from many churches that they are already traveling together in many areas, both in terms of pastoral activities, but also in administration. There are so-called parish unions in which people know each other. There is already a basis of trust; There one can easily imagine merging into one parish. But there may be parishes who say: We are already taking a big step.

Question: How is the discussion going on this topic at the moment?

Ackerman: I traveled a lot last year to boost my mood. In the first half of 2021, we did an exploratory phase on the site to hear once again what the individual parish community really looked like and at what time a union might be envisioned. There are currently 35 parish communities slated to merge on January 1, 2022. If you consider that we have 172 parish communities or parishes in the Diocese of Trier, that’s a pretty good average from my point of view.

Q: You’ve already shown what you expect from rustic rooms. To be diaconal and missionary, structures must always work to achieve something. If this power comes from new structures?

Ackerman: Of course, power has to come from the people. Structures can only support. But the Clergy Room in particular should help implement the resolutions of the Synod. It emphasized the diaconal and evangelizing element and emphasized the need for forms to reinforce it. So now we also have missionary teams, that is, people who are specifically committed to this area and released for it. It just takes courage to try things.

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