The keynote address was titled, 'The Evangelising Parish in the Australian Church: Strategies for Prophetic Witness'.
The full address is available on his blog: https://timeofthechurch.com/tag/proclaim/. With footnotes, and 12 point Calibri font, and without pictures it runs to 11 A4 pages.
(My notes will not be that extensive, and hopefully will act as a 'short version' that might encourage people to read the long version.)
Good morning. I dedicate this keynote to my late sister-in-law. At the age of 20 I was baptised and confirmed, having come from a Buddhist-Taoist heritage. To the small community that witnessed, nurtured and supported my conversion I will be forever very grateful. To others the day of my entry into the Catholic Church that November may have seemed ordinary, but it was a vital spiritual breakthrough for me. In my life, and in the lives of others, the grace of Christ continues to be powerful, and the parish remains the privileged location for it to happen.
Our parishes face many challenges: among them declining Mass attendance, increasing age profiles, the impact of the Royal Commission, decreasing religious literacy, increasing bureaucracy, and the need for structural change. History and cultural momentum will no longer carry us forward, as it did in times past.
There is a need for greater openness and responsiveness for what God wants to do in our parishes. While the call and the desire for renewal are present, they have to battle against the weight of church culture and maintenance of the status quo. Against change we have lots of pastoral antibodies. Taking the first step requires a conversion of the whole parish community.
For this to happen we need to reclaim the 'why', the rationale, of our parishes. We want that 'why' to be Jesus, and not entry in to Catholic schools. Additionally we must communicate the 'why' and the vision for how to achieve it.
Matthew 28:19 is our great commission:
Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.
We do lots of sacraments and catechesis, but making disciples is our weakness.
Having a vision for our parishes supplies the energy to get the goals done. While we do not have a road map or certainty for our future, we do have a story of the kind of disciples and community we want to be. Such a vision becomes the heart-beat and pulse of a parish-engine of change. What is the alternative? Choosing to stand in the silence of unquestioned routine, and accepting the consequential pace of survival rather than the pace of growth.
Aim for a vision that is 10 times better than what you have now, not just 10% better. The vision of the Gospel is extravagant.
Even the early part of Pope Francis' Evangelii Gaudium begins with a grand dream looking out and not down:
27. I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with Himself. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.
We need a vision for parish life, lest those in the pews ask, 'Are we going anywhere?' The aim is to move from engaging people to build up the church to become a church that builds up people. If we are in maintenance mode then we are continually looking for people to plug up the gaps, to keep the cogs of the wheels turning. It has been said that if you build the church you rarely get disciples, but if you build disciples you get the church. When we stop focusing on seating capacity alone and start focusing on sending capacity as well then we will be on the way to mission mode.
Any vision needs strategy to achieve it. Both vision AND strategy are needed. Putting on more programs is not always the better thing to do. When there is a lot of rivalry for resources, silos of parish ministry develop. While we don't want the same routine, we don't need meaningless additions to a busy parish schedule either.
Four foundational principles of an Evangelising Parish:
Growing Personal Discipleship
Discipleship in the midst of the Church
1. Proclaiming Christ
The heart of our Gospel is Jesus, and proclaiming the Good News about Him – especially the basic truths summed up in the kerygma.
What is the kerygma? Pope John Paul II gave this answer:
The subject of proclamation is Christ who was crucified, died, and is risen: through Him is accomplished our full and authentic liberation from evil, sin and death; through Him God bestows "new life" that is divine and eternal. This is the "Good News" which changes man and his history, and which all peoples have a right to hear. Redemptoris Missio 44c
Pope Paul VI challenged us in Evangelii Nuntiandi 22:
Nevertheless this always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified - what Peter called always having "your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have" - and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed. The history of the Church, from the discourse of Peter on the morning of Pentecost onwards, has been intermingled and identified with the history of this proclamation. At every new phase of human history, the Church, constantly gripped by the desire to evangelize, has but one preoccupation: whom to send to proclaim the mystery of Jesus? In what way is this mystery to be proclaimed? How can one ensure that it will resound and reach all those who should hear it? This proclamation - kerygma, preaching or catechesis - occupies such an important place in evangelisation that it has often become synonymous with it; and yet it is only one aspect of evangelisation.
Pope Francis made it even easier to grasp in Evangelii Gaudium 164
In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is Trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by His death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; He gave His life to save you; and now He is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment. For this reason too, “the priest – like every other member of the Church – ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized”.
We never graduate from hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our task is to build up a parish culture where our lives are swept up into His, and not just into our parish story where Jesus is mentioned occasionally. Those who walk through the doors of our churches expect us to proclaim Jesus, each and every time, even if they don't yet know whether they want to respond to Him or not.
2. Cultivating Personal Discipleship
To follow or not to follow Jesus as His disciple is a personal choice that no one else can make for you. The essence of evangelisation is one person telling another person how the encounter he or she had with Jesus changed them. Personal witness/testimony and exchange/dialogue are needed for conversion to be made possible. Programs do not make disciples. Disciples make disciples.
The 2011 National Church Life Survey (NCLS) reported that 60% of those who attend Mass in Australia had either some or no spiritual growth through their experience of parish life. The other three possible responses were much growth a) mainly through this congregation b) mainly through other groups or congregations c) mainly though own private activity.
Everyone is at a different stage of discipleship commitment. We need to build bridges for each differing commitment group to find what they need to advance to the next stage of discipleship commitment.
When people want to stay healthy, they seek out a personal coach. When people want to stay spiritually healthy they seek out a spiritual director.
Recognise that at every stage - even in those who have never heard of God - He is already present in his or her life and has been active in it. There is no life to which Jesus is alien or not present.
In proclaiming Christ to non-Christians, the missionary is convinced that, through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death. The missionary's enthusiasm in proclaiming Christ comes from the conviction that he is responding to that expectation, and so he does not become discouraged or cease his witness even when he is called to manifest his faith in an environment that is hostile or indifferent. He knows that the Spirit of the Father is speaking through him (cf. Mt 10:17-20; Lk 12:11-12) and he can say with the apostles: "We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit" (Acts 5:32). He knows that he is not proclaiming a human truth, but the "word of God," which has an intrinsic and mysterious power of its own (cf. Rom 1:16). Redemptoris Missio 45c
Both the preaching of the kerygma and personal conversion are required to sustain and grow a missionary culture.
Faith is born of preaching, and every ecclesial community draws its origin and life from the personal response of each believer to that preaching. Just as the whole economy of salvation has its centre in Christ, so too all missionary activity is directed to the proclamation of His mystery. Redemptoris Missio 44b
Parishes do not grow when the members of the parishes are not growing. Our personal spiritual growth has an impact on church growth.
3. Discipleship in the midst of the Church
Evangelising parishes create disciples in the midst of the church. A parish gives its members more possibilities for the life of faith, vocation and holiness than they could discover as 'lone ranger Christians'.
The growing cultural diversity of our parishes is a source of richer and deeper faith. Remember the diverse peoples present at Pentecost and see in that diversity the choice and preference of the Holy Spirit.
Small groups are a vital instrument of ecclesial support and differentiated unity. Most of us came to an active apostolic faith through small groups. That experience of small group discipleship and learning is what we need to offer others. Flowing from the Eucharist we share is the capacity for interrelationship, trust, unity and collegiality that makes small groups successful.
In 2020 a special opportunity for collegiality will be offered to us through the Plenary Council (National Synod), with Australian clergy and laity 'on the road together' discovering the collective vision, gifts and charisms we have, discerning how God is calling us to use them, and working out how to respond to that call. It will be a time to take hold of the faith with which Jesus Christ has already endowed the Church.
An Australian parish, and an Australian Church for that matter, that is not discerning God's call cannot hope to grow because it cannot see what God has already given and deeply invites.
4. Missionary Orientation
A parish exists for the sake of the world, not for its own sake. Our parishes are called to be a hospital or wellspring for those who are wounded and for those who thirst.
Joseph Komonchak explains:
To enter the Church is not to leave the world, but to be in the world differently, so that the world itself is different because there are individuals and communities living their lives because of, in, and for the sake of Jesus Christ.
We have to believe that there is a harvest of souls that we have been prepared by God to reach. When we believe this our parishes will move into mission mode and away from maintenance mode.
The four foundational principles of an evangelising parish are proclaiming Jesus, individually and collectively deepening our personal response to Him, growing in and with the church, and having a missionary orientation.
All four have to work together. Any missing principle makes us unfruitful.
We have yet to see what God can do for us, with us and through us, in our local parish - if we place our hope and trust in Him.
Daniel Ang's full keynote speech has far more detail and nuance than these notes of mine. With such densely packed ideas in it, being able to read it at your own pace and unpack the implications is a worthwhile exercise.
We have to talk more about Jesus. Compared to how much we talk about our priests, diocesan politics, sick and dying friends, our children and various parish ministries, we don't do a lot of talking about Jesus at all. Unlike other churches we don't have regular opportunities to hear testimonies of how God has worked in the lives of people like us. Generally you have to go to a weekend retreat or prayer and praise rally to hear some, unless you are involved with the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), an Alpha program or a Life in the Spirit seminar. We need something regular that is easy for people in the pews to access, for example testimonies in the half hour prior to vigil Mass and Sunday evening Mass – even if it is only once a month.
Likewise it is so easy in our homilies to just retell the Gospel story, or to get so caught up in an anecdote to help people grasp a truth in the Gospel story that we fail to make an effective logical link and bring the point home. How often have you heard a homilist approach a Gospel passage from the point of view of What did Jesus do? What else could He have done instead? Why did He choose to do that? What does this teach us about Jesus? This is the kind of stuff we need more of.
'And who is Jesus for you?' That's a question I was asked either during the conference or soon after it. I don't have a good answer for that, and yet I know that I should. While I can delve into memory and drag up a theoretically correct response, that's not what my conflicted heart would say. Sometimes it takes a long time for the heart and soul to catch up to what the mind knows to be true. Yet unless I can come up with an authentic answer to this question, my ability to evangelise is going to be severely limited.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the 'me and Jesus' part of our spiritual life that we forget that there is a greater purpose. If we knew just how many people were counting on our deeper conversion to Jesus, so that they could come into relationship with Him, maybe we would get serious about daily prayer; daily reading of scripture; joining a small group for prayer, sharing of faith and study; getting to the sacrament of Penance on a regular basis, and regularly volunteering time in service to others. Any spiritual growth in our parish has to start with us, otherwise it won't happen.
Venerable Mary Potter wrote this in 'Devotion for the Dying', Chapter 2, page 35:
We know that to all who use one grace well, another is given, and another upon that, and so on; that thus a chain, as it were, of graces is formed, one linked to the other, reaching to eternity, and that one grace lost is a chain of graces lost.
Small groups are where faith is shared and grows, and where people receive the personal pastoral care they need (a listening ear, prayer for urgent needs, practical help and encouragement).
Getting people to join small groups, now that's the hard part. Discussion/study groups during Lent are a good way to start, because people tend to be open to doing 'a bit extra' during Lent that they are not open to during the rest of the year. Having pre-prepared options for those Lenten Groups to continue with once Lent is over is crucial, otherwise the momentum is lost. It takes at least 3 small group meetings for people to get comfortable with each other enough to start opening up about what matters to them.
In our time there is a multiplicity of small group options available, for example Marriage Encounter, Couples for Christ, Teams of Our Lady, Cursillo, Legion of Mary, Antioch, Alpha, St Vincent de Paul Society…and many more. The more groups the merrier in each parish, because each group can reach people that the other groups can't.
I like what St Benedict's parish in Halifax is doing, (of Divine Renovation fame), when at the beginning of Sunday Mass people are encouraged to connect briefly with another person and to promise to pray for each other during that Mass. It is a very good gentle ice-breaker method of readying hearts for small groups, and getting people comfortable enough with each other over time so that if one of the people you've prayer-partnered with 2 or 3 times over several months invites you to a small group the chances of a 'yes' are very good.
One theme that has been very strong through Proclaim 2016 and everything else I've read over the last 12 months is the need for a paradigm shift from calling for volunteers to plug ministry holes to helping people discover the gifts and talents God has given them and finding ways to help them use those gifts and talents in His service. Even one extra person using his or her strengths in a ministry role that needs those strengths can make a world of difference. When someone is working in their strengths, and thus in a way that the anointing of the Holy Spirit can come upon them, wonderful things happen that bring people closer to Jesus. St Benedict's, Halifax, the Archdiocese of Seattle and other places are finding Clifton StrengthsFinder a useful tool in bringing about this paradigm shift.
Am I excited about the possibilities that the Australian Plenary Council (National Synod) of 2020 has? Yes! But at the same time I still carry many disappointments from the diocesan synod that happened 2010-2012 and from which I haven't seen any fruit. There may have been some, but it hasn't made any difference to my life largely because even though I wanted to be engaged in the process, it was limited (for me) to a single survey list of questions. I had far more engagement with the Synod on the Family through Archbishop Coleridge's excellent blog, and the Twitter reports. With social media having progressed in the interim, there is hope that those who don't get to the face to face components of the Plenary Council can still be engaged in it.
Some video and audio from the keynote speeches and workshops at Proclaim 2016 are now online. Firstly at http://www.proclaimconference.com.au/resources , and with video at http://www.xt3.com/proclaim2016/ , and audio at http://www.xt3.com/library/view.php?id=20738&categoryId=26 .
In the next issue will be notes from the homily from the second Mass of the conference with Bishop Nicholas Hudson, auxiliary bishop f Westminster presiding