So it is now time to turn over the preparatory work that I have done to those who will be working on it, and anyone else of goodwill who remains interested and who might be able to make use of it.
This will be a several part process of 'turn over', beginning with the vision/strategy that I had, and with what I considered to be essential pre-requisite reading for those selected for the Theme 6 Discernment and Writing Group. Then over the next few days I will release the resource materials I had collected for the three sub-parts to Theme 6, and for the related topics of controversy, followed by drafted answers to submission questions about the status of women in the church, and women in ministry and leadership.
The starting point has to be research into how God has worked in the past to bring about conversion, renewal and reform, particularly in the Australian context. There are some buttons that God can press to which there is a universal response, but there are other buttons that God can press to which Australian hearts will particularly respond, and others that are more regional in nature (eg what might touch a heart in far north Queensland may have no impact in suburban Adelaide, and vice versa).
This is essential work, because without cleansing our lenses to see through God's perspective the relative merits of each Listening phase submission cannot be accurately weighed. We were after all supposed to be listening to what God wanted to happen in Australia, not telling Him what we wanted to happen.
Some theoretical examples might make my purpose clearer.
You could say with some justification that truth, beauty and goodness open up the human heart to the things of God. They would be universal buttons.
But are there any patterns of truth, beauty and goodness that particularly open up an Australian heart to the grace of conversion? Are we more responsive to the beauties of nature than other nations are? Do we need our truth laced with humour before we can engage with it? Is there any correlation between generosity in the face of a natural disaster (floods, bushfires) and an increase in conversions in the giving and receiving communities?
Some places around the world have particular devotion to the infancy of Jesus (eg The Philippines) or to the youth of Jesus (eg South America). Is there an aspect of the life of Jesus that has particular resonance for Australians? Is our collective imagination more engaged by His parables or by His miracles or by His mercy (we know that the Greeks look for wisdom, and Israel for miracles). When it comes to the Passion of Jesus, are we as Australians more drawn to His Agony, to His Crowning with Thorns or to His carrying of the Cross?
We need to study the renewal movements that have been successful in Australia, no matter from which faith denomination, and have a go at determining why they were so successful. Are there any patterns to be found?
We also need to study the various movements of reform, in church life, in religious life, and even in secular life. Which ones can we look back on and say, this reform was from God? Are there markers to be found that reveal His fingerprints in the process, which can guide us today in determining whether a movement of reform is from Him or not?
Only if this preparatory work is done, (and the Plenary Council is the best excuse we have had in a long time for doing and funding this kind of research), will we be able to find the nuggets of gold in the piles upon piles of submissions to the Listening phase.
If we can discern the patterns that God has used consistently in Australian history, then we have a chance of bringing ourselves into alignment with those patterns and seeing the greatest outpouring of grace that our nation has ever seen.
If the prophetic voices of our times are worthy of belief, then we stand at a turning point in history, where every expectation is for the biggest outpouring of the Holy Spirit that there has ever been. It is no accident that the Plenary Council is happening at this time in the place called The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit. If so, then our challenge is to prepare the Australian church for it by discovering anew how to be open to conversion, renewal and reform as individuals, movements, parishes, dioceses and nationally.
Each country has a distinct purpose and destiny in God's plan of salvation for humanity; a plan that was set in motion millennia and centuries ago, and which is still unfolding. There are clues to this plan scattered throughout the history and religious experience of our nation. In the Discernment and Writing Group for Theme 6 is the best opportunity we have ever had to go digging for those clues and bring them together, and use them as the filtering lens with which to sift through the response data from the Listening phase of the Plenary Council.
If we can determine how the Holy Spirit has been active in the past in our nation, and what He is blowing upon in our own era, we will have the greatest chance of actively partnering with Him for this massive outpouring of grace, and the greatest chance of producing the new wineskins to sustain the impact of that grace long term. No one wants to see that grace fruitless because the soil was unprepared (lack of openness) and there was nowhere to store the harvest (lack of wineskin-structure). Without preparation we risk a flash flood. It is better to be like the farmer who, knowing that big rains are coming, prepares as many reservoirs as possible to catch the rain and also takes measures to preserve as much of the top-soil as possible lest it be carried away by the flood rains.
With that said, here is my suggested list of people who should be interviewed, and those interviews should be recorded, released on YouTube and preserved for future generations to study and be inspired by.
Interview list (my preliminary wish list)
Archbishop Porteous, his reflections on which events have had the most lasting positive impact upon souls, and why eg WYD Sydney, Pastoral Training School, Scene, March for Life/ Day of the Unborn Child, iWitness, ACYF, Proclaim Conferences etc.
Bishop Macbeth-Green, his reflections upon what he saw God touching people through most during his time at Penrose Park.
Shayne Bennett, Emmanuel Community, his reflections upon PTS 1988, the exceptional one at Bathurst before the three communities started holding independent Summer Schools, which Fr George Kosicki visited, as well as his reflections upon the fruit of NET teams and which aspects of the life of Jesus resonate most with Australians.
Mother Hilda at Jamberoo Abbey, her reflections upon what the Holy Spirit is using most to engage the hearts of youth and adults.
Fr Chris Ryan MGL, his reflections on travelling around Australia with the WYD Cross and the places where he saw most impact and any considerations on why these places responded to grace and other places had far less response.
Fr Douglas Harris of Perth and his experiences in promoting Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the fruit he is seeing in the faith communities that are doing this in Australia and elsewhere.
Fr Tadeusz Seremet of Carlton. He was at East Gosford for several years and invited many speakers and groups to minister in his parish. His reflections on which of these had the most lasting positive faith impact upon his parishioners would be most valuable.
Interviews with the leadership in Australian parishes and faith communities that are part of the Divine Renovation Network. To report on what is working and isn't working in the Australian context.
Interview with leadership from Hill Song about what they see initiates Australian hearts having the biggest response to God.
There should definitely be several members of the Discernment and Writing Group present at ACYF Perth, 8-10 Dec 2019 to see for themselves what young people are responding to, and to interview many of the presenters for their input on what they see initiating the greatest response to God from young people.
Interviews with Church historians from both Catholic and non-Catholic backgrounds; with an emphasis on large group spontaneous responses to God in Australian history (a.k.a. revival). How did they start? What were they preaching about? How long did they continue? What caused them to fade? What long term impact did they have?
Interviews with priests who served as Missionaries of Mercy in Australia during the Year of Mercy.
Interviews with retired superiors of religious orders resident in Australia. Their reflections upon the stories they heard about events before they joined the order, and their own experiences of what things most caused a renewal and deepening of faith and love in their religious members. Also their reflections upon reform and restructure, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Below is what I consider to be an essential reading list for anyone on the Discernment and Writing Group team for Theme 6
Essential Reading List (pre-requisite)
No Silver Bullets by Daniel Im
Particularly Chapter 2 on From Output to Input and Chapter 6 on Introducing Change.
We don't need to 'reinvent the wheel', much of the research we need has already been done, even though it is from an American context. One of the take home thoughts from Chapter 2 is that personal daily reading of scripture is guaranteed to produce outcomes of conversion and discipleship.
A take home thought from Chapter 6 is below:
"In our bodies our immune system cannot differentiate between disease causing microorganisms and the cells of a life giving transplant... No wonder change is so hard to implement in our churches. It's like the immune system of our church body knows when we try to transplant foreign ideas. And not only does it detect the new idea, it sees it as bad bacteria, a virus – thus resulting in its rejection…In order to accept the transplant the church's unique personality, history, leadership style and culture must be regarded and the right dosage of change and the areas to which it needs to be applied need to be determined."
Tim Keller's masterful article on Leadership and Church Dynamics
How strategy changes with growth. This explains why growth in membership necessitates structural change, otherwise the growth stagnates. It also talks about the discomforts a parish experiences prior to and after a change in structure due to church growth.
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What happens when God's Spirit invades the Heart of His people
by Jim Cymbala
The story of how God took an almost dead congregation and made it a light to the nations.
https://www.amazon.com/Rebuilt-Awakening-Faithful-Reaching-Making/dp/1594713863 by Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran
Hymns, homilies and hospitality; are the three major things that draw those on the periphery in if they are good and turn them away if they are bad.
For an introduction to 'Rebuilt', read these transcripts from Proclaim 2014 where the authors spoke:
The trends from the 2011 National Church Life Survey as given to Proclaim 2014
Around 7% of your congregation has a natural talent for evangelisation.
The importance of the role of family in handing on the faith far outranks everything else.
His timeless defence of the family and the need to bring it back to primacy in society.
Dave Ahlquist's summary goes like this:
'What's wrong with the world?'
There are four main things wrong with the world: big government, big business, feminism and public education. Why? Because they all undermine the family, which is the basic unit of society, the thing that must be stable for society to be stable, the thing that must be strong for society to be strong, and the thing that is most under attack in our society today.
What's the solution?
It must be to restore the family to its proper place. We need a family-based economy and a family-based social system, where both state and commerce are subordinate to the family.
And chapter 4 of the Chesterton's book contains this gem:
'The future is a blank wall on which every man can write his name as large as he likes; the past I find already covered with illegible scribbles, such as Plato, Isaiah, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Napoleon. I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity. And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this: that men invent new ideas because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back. Now in history there is no Revolution that is not a Restoration. Among the many things that leave me doubtful about the modern habit of fixing eyes on the future, none is stronger than this: that all the men in history who have really done anything with the future have had their eyes fixed upon the past. I need not mention the Renaissance, the very word proves my case. The originality of Michelangelo and Shakespeare began with the digging up of old vases and manuscripts.'
by Fr Simon Lobo
For an introduction to 'Divine Renovation Apprentice' read this transcript from DR18:
It contains excellent input on leadership, vision, structure, meetings and culture. Leaders can choose to be bottlenecks or bottle openers, to limit growth or to equip and empower others.
by Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird
In Acts, 39 of the 40 miracles the Holy Spirit performs occur outside the church. We need to expect that kind of ratio today. The real power of the Gospel is released as ordinary, Spirit-filled people multiply the Gospel wherever they go, into every part of their communities.
John Wimber, Signs Wonders & Church Growth Conference Case Histories 9/12 and 10/12
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wtxh6edmxHU&list=PLGI42ZL3eqTl3UNmYGzFc_DqGsPF7z4NN&index=11&t=0s 1 hr 51 mins
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iena6tko_i8&list=PLGI42ZL3eqTl3UNmYGzFc_DqGsPF7z4NN&index=12&t=0s 1 hr 38 mins
How Vineyard began, https://www.vineyardchurches.org.uk/articles/how-the-vineyard-began/ (although that isn't the full story as John tells it)
These YouTube clips may or may not contain the segment where John notices a distressed woman at the church. She is heart-broken because with all the strange newcomers to the church everything that she really liked about going to church has disappeared. He agrees with her that things have changed, and that it is hard, and he even cries with her, yet he tells her that Jesus wants to save the lost, and that's what they had been doing, and what she had been praying for.
However these video-clips do contain pastors talking about what happens when they let God be God of their congregations, and also what happens when they resisted His will.
with Fr Dave Pivonka and Dominique Ferry
'You have to keep going in your listening to the Spirit. Because in 1993 they founded something they called the Festival for Young People in France. And it was a success, but in 2003 things were going down and down and down. 10 years later the need was different. The young people were different. They were not ready to abide by the same rules as the ones 10 years before. But the core of what has to be announced is the same. It is the kerygma, because the kerygma has a power in itself.
Understanding what this evangelization is causes me to reflect that perhaps that we should have spoken of the new Pentecost before the new evangelization. It causes me to think of the disciples, who had every advantage. Who taught the disciples how to pray? Jesus. Who taught them how to forgive? Jesus. Who taught them how to heal? Jesus. They had every advantage. They spent time with Jesus. They saw everything that Jesus did, and yet it was not enough. That they needed more than an encounter with Jesus – they needed the Holy Spirit. The disciples were not able to evangelise until they had experienced Pentecost. I believe that we will not be able to evangelise until we experience Pentecost.'
https://www.amazon.com/New-Generation-Practical-Revitalizing-Church/dp/0310525225/ref=dp_ob_title_bk by Lee Kricher
Another story about how a parish in major demographic decline turned things around and began to thrive.
He spoke in testimony briefly at DR16:
The story of the development of the Trappists through three saints, St Robert, St Alberic, and St Stephen Harding with insights into the various changes and reforms that they undertook as well as how they came up with a novel way of governance.
A Kindle version is available.
by Everett Fritz
How many teens do you think will become lifelong disciples out of your youth ministry?
What did you do differently with those ten that you didn't do with the other teens in your youth ministry?
If we are losing our young people in the Church today, it isn't due to lack of effort.
by Jarrod Cooper
Details of what happened in 2011 when God's power became manifest over groups of people. Including reflections on those experiences; and upon a 1947 Smith Wigglesworth prophecy of three distinct moves of the Holy Spirit. 'When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest move of the Holy Spirit that the nation (Britain), and indeed, the world has ever seen.'
Mons Harry Entwistle
Within the Catholic Church of Australia at this time, the bishops have posed the question to the faithful, “What is God asking of us at this time?’ This is not a question asking what the faithful think should be done to ‘fix up’ the Church and make it ‘relevant’ to modern liberal Western society. To attempt to do that is pursuing fool’s gold.
The question is not one about how to enable the Church to survive in our age. It could only do that by ceasing to be Catholic. Nor is it one about finding strategies to revive the Church. Like the raising of Lazarus, revival is restoring someone or something to what it was before, and everyone has their own view about what this should be.
The question is about what GOD wants, and what GOD has always wanted from the creation onwards, is to bring order out of chaos, which is nothing less than resurrection.
God is not asking us in the Ordinariate Church to struggle on as best we can in the hope that we will grow and somehow survive. Neither is He asking us to revive some glorious era of Anglo-Catholicism within the Catholic Church.
He is calling us to the new life of resurrection by finding a new place within the Australian Catholic Church at this time so that we can be faithful to our heritage while being committed to the mission of the Church and its evangelisation of the world.
The next blog-post in this cycle will be background reading resources for the sub theme 'Open to Conversion'
#PlenaryCouncil #PlenaryCouncilTheme 6