It is not business as we know it!

Engaging our future today – Aotearoa New Zealand Pastoral Planning Conference.
Lorraine McArthur
Pastoral planning is not about goals and aims strategically prepared in order to make a financial gain. It is about preparing for the way we meet t

‘Pastoral planning is not about goals and aims strategically prepared in order to make a financial gain. It is about preparing for the way we meet the pastoral and spiritual needs of people. It is centred on the gospel and the way the gospel is preached and lived. Pope John II, when speaking of pastoral planning in Novo Millennio Ineunte said, ‘First of all, I have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness. (MNI 30) And, ‘It is therefore essential that education in prayer should become in some way a key point of all pastoral planning’, (NMI34).

So began Archbishop John Dew’s address to those gathered in Auckland last month for the first ever Aotearoa New Zealand Pastoral Planning Conference. Quoting from Pope Benedict, he went on to say, ‘We do not work for prestige, nor do we work to expand a business or the like. In reality, we work so that the pathways around the world are opened to Christ. The purpose of all our work, with all its ramifications, is actually, ultimately, so that His gospel, as well as the joy of redemption, may reach the world’.

It’s not just about the practicalities of how we enliven our parishes or how we provide for needs with a growing shortage of priests; it’s not just a matter of expediency. If we approach it from only those points of view, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Pastoral Planning needs to be set in the context of how we work together, priests and laity, of collaborative ministry and in the context of the spirituality of communion.

‘The spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us and whose light we must also be able to see shining in the face of the brothers and sisters around us.’ (NMI143).

Jesus came to offer every human being communion with God. Do our parishes and dioceses reflect that? Do our parishes reflect the life of love, of prayerfulness, of unity and peace? For each of us, the question remains, ‘What do I do to help others live in Christ’s presence?’ – the question for pastoral planning.

Over the two days of the conference, bishops, people with the responsibility for pastoral planning in their diocese, and pastoral leaders at the parish level reflected on what it meant to be ‘in the business of pastoral planning for the future for the church in Aotearoa in this time of change.

Each diocese told their planning story – each different according to their history, leadership, geographical location, and people. What emerged was a learning for everyone present, a rich tapestry of stories, each thread part of the life of the church in New Zealand.

Input on the second day from Dr John Dunn who spoke of ‘the challenge and promise of pastoral planning’, and a church demographer, Peter Lineham, whose keynote address was on ‘reading the signs of the times’, ensured that the discussions which followed were relevant to today.

They challenged participants on the issues of current attendance patterns, ageing congregations and populations, the secularisation of New Zealand, youth factors, women and gender patterns, anti-institutional trends, postmodern spirituality and trends and, in the Catholic Church, the ageing and the shortage of priests.

Theologian, philosopher and writer, Mike Russell, was a ‘critical friend’, someone who listened to the speakers for what they were saying, and not saying. His was the role of the challenger, the provoker, the enquirer of the truth through the lens of his theological knowledge and life experiences, his innate wisdom, and his love of church. His 15-minute reflections were invaluable.

Mike’s challenge was that in the process of pastoral planning we not make the mistake of simply moving the chairs around on the deck of the Titanic, and that at some stage in pastoral planning the unnamed issues needed to be acknowledged and addressed.