Many ways to lead

“It is my conviction that slight shifts in imagination have more impact on living than major efforts at change… deep changes in life follow movements in imagination.”

Twenty years ago the late Marilyn Prior and I used the above quote in a series of workshops we did all over the Archdiocese and around the country on Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical, “The Gospel of Life.”

I was reminded of the quote when an amazing event took place in our midst earlier this year. Via a massive crowd-funding campaign the people of Aotearoa New Zealand bought Awaroa Inlet beach in the Abel Tasman National Park and returned it to public ownership.

When Duane Major and Adam Gard’ner saw the beach advertised for sale on Trademe they hatched the seemingly impossible idea of buying the beach for public use, rather than allowing it to become the property of one private owner.

A few months later the beach belonged to the people of New Zealand, as a result of a massive Givealittle campaign.

There was something uniquely Kiwi in what Duane and Adam did. Duane said that one of the most significant factors of the campaign, for him, was “the values that have been unearthed by this effort, because it is those values that have driven this”. Their values were coupled with the courage to try and do something which many people said was impossible.

We are used to thinking of “leaders” as being people in certain positions with responsibility and authority. In fact this type of formal leadership is only one type of leadership.

The community is poorer if we think that all change has to be driven by people in formal leadership positions. Yes, some change has to be driven by, or at least approved or initiated by, those in formal leadership roles, but really good change can take place at grassroots level when ordinary people stand up and lead. That leadership may only relate to one event, one action, one need, but when many people take this kind of initiative a community comes alive.

If we find ourselves saying “They (meaning people in formal leadership roles) should do this and this and this”, it may be that we are missing an opportunity. In this situation the next question should be “But what can I do to bring about this change? Do I have a role to play in it?”

As I move around the Archdiocese I meet many people who give of their time and skills to make parish and school events happen. Many of those people would not describe themselves as “leaders”. But that is exactly what they are – they lead, and they make things happen.

The Catholic Social Teaching principle of subsidiarity – mana whakahaere – means ensuring decision making happens as close as possible to those who might be affected so they can participate.  Subsidiarity has wide application, and it enables leadership to be exercised in many different ways. The more people who respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to step forward and take the initiative where they are in the Church, the more alive and animated our faith communities will be.

Duane Major and Adam Gard’ner are examples of two ordinary guys who did something amazing. In the Archdiocese of Wellington this year people have stepped up to lead the refugee resettlement process, and to organize the donation of new shoes for school children are doing things among many other things. These actions are similar in nature if not on the same scale as the Awarua project.  Can we do more things like this in big and small ways in our parishes, and in the wider community?

Cardinal John