In an increasingly secular community, country and world, on the face of it the Church is facing increasingly uncertain times:
Across the archdiocese mass attendances are falling. Of those that tick ‘Catholic’ on the census form, less than 20 percent now attend mass.
While we in Richmond have several younger people at mass, this is not the case in the rest of the archdiocese. Many of our young people question the role and relevance of the church in today’s world.
Most importantly, our priests are getting older. By 2011 there will be only about half the parish priests in the archdiocese that we have today.
These are just some of the challenges confronting the church and the archdiocese right now.
In announcing the June 2006 synod in his letter in February 2005, AB John Dew said:
You may be wondering what shape the archdiocese will have under my leadership as your bishop. Whatever its shape, I want us all to have a part in its making. That will mean you and I working together to explore and map the way ahead.
He then went on to say:
‘Trust me and trust one another.’
Whatever the way ahead for us as individuals, as a parish, as pastoral areas, as an archdiocese, I am heartened and inspired by Archbishop John Dew’s words as we boldly step into this future together.
The synod was the first major step in looking at the archdiocese and beginning a conversation about where it is going.
You may have read some accounts of the synod in the Wel-com or on the archdiocesan website. I want to share with you some of my impressions of the synod – what touched, moved and inspired me.
One of the most inspiring and provocative talks came at the very start of the synod from Chris Duthie-Jung. Chris said in his opening address:
If the gospel is to be preached in 10 years from now, who will do it? The young? Why would we dream of forcing them to adopt the ways of the Catholic late Middle Ages; because let’s face it, so much of what we hold dear is more about familiarity than gospel. We simply must accept and make room for new expressions of faith, for the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable.
So in tackling the challenges before us what will be our approach? Are we talking about wholesale change? Will it bring the faithful back or will it drive even more people from our churches? Where are the answers for us? If there is to be transformation, how will it happen? How can we be part of it?
In attempting to answer these questions for myself, I draw much hope and inspiration from our late beloved Father , Pope John Paul II in his letter Novo Millennio Ineunte where he wrote:
It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new programme’. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the gospel and the living tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history.
With him, Christ, transform history!
In our gospel reading today Mark describes Jesus in the very act of transforming history. There are two powerful themes at work in Mark’s account. One is faith ‘take nothing for your journey except a staff’ [Mk 6:8]. The other is partnership – between Jesus and the disciples and between the disciples and those who heard the good news and believed. These were the first seeds of a collaborative ministry that still lives today.
In his final letter before the synod Archbishop John said of collaborative ministry:
Such ministry focuses on the gifts of both the ordained and the non-ordained. It speaks of a real partnership between priest and people… This is the path for our synod: Salt and Light together.
And collaborative ministry was indeed a strong theme running through many of the synod themes.
So what do we mean by collaborative ministry? What will that look like for us? What would that look like for me?
In the first reading Amaziah says:
I was no prophet … I was a shepherd … But it was the Lord who took me from herding the flock [Amos 7:14].
God has given all of us gifts and Archbishop John talks a lot about sharing these gifts. What are the gifts God has given you? How can you express these; in your work, in your family, in your faith community? This is what collaborative ministry is all about.
For me, collaborative ministry is deeply personal. It is at the core of my relationship with God and his expression through me.
Lay pastoral training
Some of you may have been wondering who I am, why I was attending the synod and why I’m here talking to you about it? I can only say that while this is now my parish, I was attending the synod in my capacity as a Launch Out candidate.
So what is Launch Out and how does it relate to the synod and collaborative ministry? Launch Out is an archdiocesan formation programme training lay people to become lay pastoral leaders. It involves four to five years of formation and study and was one of the first steps on the road to collaborative ministry initiated by Cardinal Tom Williams and Archbishop John Dew. Of the current 25 Launch Out candidates, two have already been appointed to permanent pastoral roles in Porirua and the Hutt Valley.
So the first reading is very poignant for me personally for God created each and every one of us in his own image and in each of us an abundance of gifts from the spirit. For my part, I am grateful for the abundance of gifts I have been given. I am no prophet but I am clear that I have been called to share and express my gifts in the execution of Gods divine plan.
So, in taking on the challenges set before us, each one of us has a great opportunity. What are your gifts? Where does the spirit call you to be in action as we continue to transform our church and our faith community? Jesus still speaks to each of us today when he said, ‘You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world’ [Mt 5:13,14].
Does that mean changes for us and our church? Almost certainly. But one thing is also certain; the Catholic Church and our archdiocese is a great faith community and I think it still has some life in it yet. In writing about the future of the archdiocese Archbishop John said in his February 2005 letter:
Whatever its shape, I want us all to have a part in its making.