Where are we headed? What does the future look like for the Catholic church? How can we pool our collective experience to sustain thriving Catholic communities? And how can we engage spiritually with those who engage us practically?
Director of Parish 2020, Tony Farley, has been out and about in the Sydney Archdiocese in search of the answers. Here are his first impressions.
It’s been a little over two months since I was appointed by Archbishop Anthony as Director of Parish 2020. As you would expect, a lot of well wishes have been accompanied by “I don’t envy you” and “good luck” comments that make it sound like the next instalment of Mission Impossible.
It’s tempting to be overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of what the Catholic Church does in the Archdiocese of Sydney. With a 138 Parishes operating across a vast area, our Church reaches into thousands of communities and lives in so many ways.
There’s no one size fits all formula that can possibly work to support these diverse communities and the principle of subsidiarity calls us to embrace that diversity and allow our people and the Holy Spirit to guide us in Parish change and renewal.
Throughout the Archdiocese, Parishes quietly go about the daily routines of worship and ministry as they have for generations. The experience and wisdom of those communities is the foundation for whatever is to come.
It’s equally true that there are thousands of people who identify as Catholics but who are not active members of their Parish communities – their experience and wisdom is just as important in terms of how we grow as faith communities into the future.
In these early days, I’ve started the process of visiting every Parish Priest so that I can understand what they, as leaders of their communities, want in terms of support and assistance.
At some of those visits, the Priests have invited other active Parishioners to help explain where they are at and where they are going in their communities and in every instance, their energy, optimism and eagerness to grow is apparent.
In no particular order, here are some early observations about Parish 2020 which will give you an idea of where things are so far and where they’re beginning to go.
Just Do It
I’m hearing examples of how easy it is for the enthusiasm for new projects and ideas to be whittled away by the usual, but unnecessary, processes. While there’s a time and a place for meetings and committees, it seems most people are really keen to be out there doing something, rather than talking about it. It’s absolutely true that we need to plan so that our resources are used in the best way possible, but perhaps our plans should also factor in the occasional leap of faith. Often the best way of working out whether something will work is to embrace the “be not afraid” side of ourselves and just have a go.
How do we encourage non-practicing Catholics to join our communities? It’s an eternal question that I’ve discussed at length with the Priests and Parishioners I’ve met with so far. The challenges are many and so are our opportunities. Across the Diocese we have limitless ways to engage with people on a daily basis. Be it with school communities, with people who access our aged care or health care services, or with those who are assisted by our social services. We are blessed to be surrounded by ways to engage with people, which should make us optimistic about our future. Throughout my Parish visits I’ve encountered a real enthusiasm to reach out and connect with Catholics who, for whatever reason, are not making it to Church. Parish 2020 is the perfect platform to discuss the challenges and the triumphs of welcoming these people back.
I’m seeing plenty of examples of what really works. Whether it’s music for younger people, social services outreach, adult faith education or faith community building with schools there are Parishes who have figured out how to connect the community spirit with the Holy Spirit. Sharing these experiences will make us all better at what we do. As part of Parish 2020, we’ll be showcasing great ideas and posing difficult questions – so that we can all learn from each other and, as a group, tackle some of the more complex challenges. Which leads to my next point;
Collaborate and Connect
Every large organisation has the same problem, the left hand sometimes doesn’t know what the right hand is doing and the Catholic Church is no different. Probably the biggest challenge of Parish 2020 is to create the spaces and places to allow the abundance we live in to be shared within and between Parishes and communities. Joining forces, so to speak, does not mean losing autonomy. We’ll simply be finding new and better ways of collaborating and connecting, so that we can, each of us, work to create a thriving, sustainable Church life.
Over the next month or so you’ll see the Parish 2020 webpage renewed and become an active resource informing you about activities, parish initiatives and resources to support Parishes.
We’ll be asking Priests and Parishes to share their stories and not just the good ones. I’m aware that there is a lot of healthy skepticism out there and that facing some discomforting home truths is a necessary step to making worthwhile change.
Please let us know what you think by sending your views to Parish2020@ccer.catholic.org.au. You can also keep up to date with what’s happening on our webpage: https://www.sydneycatholic.org/parishes/parish2020/