Archbishop John Dew’s plan for restructuring the diocese echoes developments in the early church documented in the Acts of the Apostles about which we have been hearing in the liturgical readings between Easter and Pentecost.
While the excerpts from Acts in the readings have been largely on the apostles’ teachings about Jesus the Christ and their persuading people to his way, ‘the way’, these readings also give an insight into the communities that sprang up around the apostles.
For example Acts 2:46 says they spent much time together in the temple and breaking bread at home. In Acts 20:20 Paul speaks to the people of Ephesus about ‘proclaiming the message and teaching you publicly and from house to house’.
In Acts 16:15 we meet Lydia who, with her household, was baptised and who opened her home to Paul and Timothy and their followers.
In Paul’s letters we learn about the church communities at Cenchrae where a benefactor of Paul, Phoebe, is deacon (Romans 16:1) and of Prisca and Aquila and ‘all the churches of the Gentiles’ (Rom 16:3-4). Paul finishes a list of friends and benefactors with ‘All the churches of Christ greet you’ (Rom 16:5-16).
We have a sense of many small communities interacting with each other amid the constraints of the need for secrecy and concealment from hostile authorities. Leaders, men and women, came from within these communities.
The churches in Wellington, too, need to interact with each other to build communities together. Leaders emerge as people address the communities’ needs and plan the next step.
In Paul’s letters we read of fighting among themselves. In Galatians Paul makes it clear that his calling is to the Gentiles while Peter, who is devoted to the Torah, preaches to the Jews. Paul criticises Cephas (Peter) for hypocrisy and ‘not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel’ (Gal 2:11-14).
In the same way the church of the Wellington Archdiocese, and of the Palmerston North Diocese for that matter, is called to come together to discuss the issues facing them today as they work together to find a way forward.
Archbishop John has suggested a number of solutions and asked that parishes discuss within their various groupings how they might achieve the mission of bringing the Eucharist to the people within the constraints of earthquake-prone buildings and a dwindling numbers of priests.
Remembering that our mission is the same as that of the early church, to bring the Good News to the world, spending time together praying and discussing issues helps communities to discern the way the Spirit or wisdom of the Lord is leading them.