The moderator for the Panel Response was Jude Hennessy from 'The Journey' radio show and the Diocese of Wollongong.
The panel's task was to help us reflect upon the Conference input and to propose ideas for how we might respond as a group. Each panellist has been asked to share their personal reflections, to engage with some of the feedback from conference attendees, and to talk about how they plan to act on the conference input in their own lives.
Jude Hennessy kicked things off by sharing what he learned from reading 'Tools for Rebuilding':
'Don't just do something, stand there. Pause and reflect. Start somewhere, take aim at some target, and do something, in a smaller way, and then figure out what that taught you about what you want to do in a bigger way. Ask the right questions.'
Sr Kate Atkins - Missionary of God's Love Sisters, a new group of consecrated women. She joined them in 1996.
Fr Richard Healey - Assistant Priest, St Paul's Camden. It is a large parish, and this is his third appointment. Otherwise he is known as a geek, a go-to IT guy and the vocations director for the Diocese of Wollongong.
Tony Farley - Parish Council Member, Lower North Shore. Has been part of the parish council for 5-6 years. Around 40 parishioners have read 'Rebuilt'. Trying to live by 'go hard, fail early, go ahead'.
Sinead Kent - Family Faith Educator, St Vincent's Ashfield. Mother of four and an expat from Ireland.
Daniel Ang - Pastoral Planner, Diocese of Parramatta
Question : What have you heard that has energised or moved you?
Sinead : Realising how much we don't know what our audience is, even though that is a known problem. At school I work with many people on the fringe of church life, as a liaison for them to help translate 'school speak' and 'church speak' for them and vice versa. This initiative begun in 2010 is proving successful enough for it to get rolled out to other schools. The challenge is to find out what the parents and carers are looking for. It is good to ask those questions, 'What are we doing?' and 'Why are we doing it?' For me focussing on the family, the domestic church, is the way forward, and then to gently invite them in.
Tony : The key things for me were perseverance, the need to challenge ourselves, and to support each other in doing something different. The other thing was to not be afraid of having the difficult conversations we have to have, if we are to move forward.
Sr Kate : I appreciated the focus back onto Jesus and onto the simple things, the basics. The 7 asks (pray, join a small group, serve on the inside, serve on the outside, give, invest in relationships, invite them to church) were good. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to move us. Often we wait for someone better to show up and tackle a task we see needs doing – they won't – so give it a go yourself.
Daniel : I have been inspired by the authors of Rebuilt to have honest discussions about the state of our parishes. On a bad day you can see for ever. We need to explore how to live discipleship more communally. We need to work out how to reach the individual unchurched, especially those around us at the dinner table. To do fewer things, but to do them better. We also need to work on making sure that our people are in the right ministries.
Fr Richard : I loved the synthesis of deep encouragement and absolute practicality. I appreciated how the authors had their feet on the ground reality and yet are so centred in Christ, and willing to share their many mistakes and failures. With some trepidation I gave a copy of Rebuilt to my parish priest, who found in it reinforcement of his own pastoral ideas but as yet no sense of the need to be doing things differently.
Sr Kate : Many thanks to Marita Winters for organising for us to hear the news from other churches.
Question : The conference has rebooted our focus on mission. So how do we start initiating the changes?
Daniel : To awaken the sense of mission, we need our leaders to present the vision to us. Often we think that growth looks linear, when in fact it is more spiral. Every time we go forward a bit, we also have to go back and bring the strays and re-present the vision to them. Do the authors of Rebuilt have a pastoral plan? I think they do, it is just that it is not written down. We also need prayer, and to create time for the things that really matter.
Tony : We need to view all parish activity through the prism of moving to discipleship. At our parish we did a survey to start engaging with the silent majority in the pews, because we need to listen to everyone. Part of the survey asked 'Would you like to be involved in parish ministry?' Of the 550 surveys that came back, 125 of them responded 'Yes, I want to be involved'. While some of those would be seeking greater involvement, many of those 125 would be saying yes to some form of parish ministry for the very first time.
Question : The National Church Life Survey told us that some 67% of us are quite happy to talk our faith with others, but very few of us go the next step and invite them to parish life. Why is this? How can we change it?
Fr Richard : We have to confess that while we all love church speak, it is a language barrier and fosters a sense of exclusion in those outside the church and on the fringes of it. My work in the marriage tribunal has taught me how much frustration proceeds from a legal mentality, despite the need for clarity and boundaries. Viewing the Hillsong website was a revelation to me.
Sr Kate : While I was surprised at the Survey's indication about how many Catholics desire to share their faith, we need to acknowledge that there are stages in evangelisation and that it is often a long process. It takes wisdom to know when it is the right time to ask someone to come to Mass with you. It concerns me that some new parishioners haven't been talked to in their first 3 years in a parish.
Sinead : In order to be able to reach out to a wide range of people you need the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we are too educated. What we need is 100% reliance on the Holy Spirit. We also need to think seriously about those things we can do collaboratively to reach out to others. It is also undeniably important that you take time to learn the culture of the people you are reaching out to. For example if you live in an area with a high Chinese population it makes sense to take the time to learn how to serve a cup of tea to a Chinese person, with the correct ritual and respect. So things like this require long term plans, and time spent in getting to know people and building relationships. Perseverance is key.
Tony : We also need to seriously look at the disconnect between parish life and those employed in Catholic institutions. The Catholic Church in the Sydney region employs some 180,000 people in schools, hospitals, administration etc. That is a large number of skilled people working under the ethos of the Church, and yet so many of them are disconnected with parish life. Bridging the disconnection between school and parish is a good place to start.
Sinead : That is our aim with the family faith educators initiative, to connect with people and then to help them connect and reconnect with school and parish. Teacher language is different to parent language which is different again to church language, and we try to facilitate communication between these language sets by helping them decode and listen to each other.
Question : Who do you need to ask to move, and how do you do that?
Tony : We have had more failures than successes in this regard. It is true that there are great musicians everywhere. One parishioner visited Timor and came back wanting to do something that would really help. That's how the twinning of our parish with a parish in Timor began, which has connected us with a sense of witness and mission. One very helpful thing we did was to go through all the parish ministries and make a directory including job descriptions for each one of those ministries. Prior to us reading rebuilt our parish was planning to redevelop a site of land to provide an income stream for the parish. Lots of people had put a lot of time and effort into these plans. But we decided to pull the plug on the project because its outcome was an income stream and not discipleship. All those who had become invested in the project were very hurt by this decision.
Jude : Prayer is a critical part of the process. Any change will only work with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Daniel : Planning is difficult, because it is people work. Parishes and dioceses only grow when their people do. Sometimes we forget that priests are accountable only to the bishop and not to the people they serve. It is easier to let go if you know you will be caught and supported at the other end – and through the journey of implementing the changes. No one likes change, but it is easier to do if you know you will be held on the other side. If you have poor quality lectors and cantors, then if you find better ministry roles for them and invite them to give it a go, you will have given them an easier pathway to make the transition. It is always easier to ask people to move if you have somewhere for them to go. Giving people a sense of mission provides them with both the power to change and permission to change.
Jude : Dare to dream. Dream what your parish could look like in 5 or 10 years' time, and work towards it.
The next blog-post will be about the diocesan group sessions and the concluding messages the bishops gave us.
Some of the workshops have been made available as podcasts via www.xt3.com
To access them visit http://www.xt3.com/library/view.php?id=17454
Some of the talks and workshops are now available from http://www.proclaimconference.com.au/resources.
Several video clips, transcripts, handouts and slide presentations are downloadable.
These Notes are only one person's version of what they heard, and they are not a literal transcript.