Pastoral conference ‘life-giving’ for parish leaders

WelCom November 2019 Mary-Ann Greaney ‘That conference was a cracker!’ High praise from one of the participants at the Seeking holiness in a secular society conference held near Dunedin in…

WelCom November 2019

A group of Wellington Parish leaders at the conference. Photo: Supplied

Mary-Ann Greaney

‘That conference was a cracker!’ High praise from one of the participants at the Seeking holiness in a secular society conference held near Dunedin in September this year. 

Many of the 130 plus participants who came from every corner of Aotearoa New Zealand to Mosgiel shared this sentiment. Particularly life-giving was the age range and ethnic mix – teenagers through to people in their 80s mixing freely and networking to share their various experiences of being called to mission.

The 20 workshops on offer covered many areas of parish life and ministry: prayer, liturgy, caring for the environment, prison and hospital chaplaincy, RCIA, ministering in multicultural parishes, Young Church, social justice, parish-school relationships, protection of minors, making sense of the Church in 2019, Māori spirituality and more. Feedback from participants was positive, with one person saying, ‘I’ve been to Religious Education Conferences in the USA probably 35 times. The workshops were as good or better than anything I’ve attended there.’

The two keynote speakers were Daniel Ang from Sydney, and Kitty McKinley from Wellington. Daniel Ang spoke about evangelising those who are regular Mass attendees. His speech, The Catholic parish: A community of holiness, in principle and practice, was powerful and relevant to local context. We have two choices, he said, ‘to communicate a vision of how we seek to respond to God, which becomes the heartbeat of the parish or, to be a community transfixed in an unquestioning routine’. He spoke about the importance of proclaiming the Good News and how, when this happens, we can build a culture in which Jesus is not swept into our parish story, but our parishes and lives are swept into his.   

Kitty McKinley spoke about reaching out to those we do not find in our Sunday pews. Her presentation was challenging, future-focused, humble and honest. Kitty shared her stories of encouraging parish leaders to continually develop a relationship with Jesus who is our strength. She said the scripture that guides her is: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18).

Before joining the local parish community to conclude our time together, a panel of four leaders discussed issues such as why they stayed with the Church given the sexual abuse, clericalism, and lack of status. Some attendees identified the panel as the conference highlight. 

Maya Bernardo, Wellington, Gerald Ansley parish priest from Dunedin, Dave Mullin, Palmerston North, and Therese Lautua, Auckland also discussed how they are called to seek holiness in a secular society.

As well as hearing quality presenters, attendees appreciated the opportunity to brainstorm pastoral solutions with the wider Church. It was a real celebration of the process of Catholic leadership and ministry.

Mary-Ann Greaney is Director Parish Leadership Ministry, Archdiocese of Wellington.