Working for Church ‘a good fit’ for new GM

Taking up the position of General Manager of the Archdiocese of Wellington has felt like ‘coming home’, says new appointee Reuben Norris.

Reuben Norris, General Manager, Archdiocese of Wellington. Photo: WelCom

WelCom March 2024

Michael Fitzsimons

Taking up the position of General Manager of the Archdiocese of Wellington has felt like ‘coming home’, says new appointee Reuben Norris.

Reuben, an Australian partnered to a Wellingtonian, Helen, took up the position in August 2023.

‘I’m really enjoying the challenge and working with the people in the Archdiocese of Wellington. Working in a Catholic organisation is like coming home, after six months in the Ministry [of Education]. Working for the Catholic Church is a good fit for me. That’s where my faith is, that’s how I’ve grown up. To come here and work for the Archbishop in a strategically important role is a privilege.’

Reuben was born and bred in Perth, Western Australia. His parents were both migrants, his Mum from Malaysia and his Dad a refugee from Myanmar. He was educated in the Catholic education system and studied commerce at university, completed a Diploma in Education at the University of Notre Dame Australia and began a teaching career. Over time, with his business background, he moved into financial and infrastructure management in the Catholic education system, first in Western Australia and then in Brisbane.

A highlight of his career to that point was helping with the setting up of a school for refugees on Christmas Island, at the request of the Australian Government. The school was run by Catholic Education Western Australia.

The transition to living in Wellington has gone smoothly. He’s even getting used to the weather, he says with a laugh.

‘I’ve really enjoyed the people and the lifestyle. It’s just a different lifestyle. As much as people say that Australia and New Zealand are alike, they’re very different culturally, and the way people approach life and get on with things.’

In his role as General Manager, Reuben needs to take a long-term view of the Church and where it’s heading. His job is to support the vision and mission of the Archbishop but his role is also to support parishes. Next month he is visiting parishes in the South Island to find out more about how they operate financially and discuss ways of supporting them more. He will also be holding meetings in parishes in the North Island. 

‘I want to hear their successes and their challenges. I’m new to the country and there’s plenty for me to learn but there could be an advantage in coming in fresh. There may be more we can do to support parishes, to make things easier for them.

We shouldn’t be asking people to give more, we should be getting more people to give.

Reuben Norris

‘I want to hear the stories of where parishes are at. Coming from Western Australia I’m used to travelling. I’m looking forward to getting on the road again.’

The big challenge, the ‘nut to crack’, is financial sustainability of the whole of the archdiocese into the future, says Reuben. There are a number of realities to consider, including the decline in Mass numbers since the Covid pandemic. Another reality is that, according to research into giving among all faiths in New Zealand, Catholics are at the modest end of church donating.

‘How do we get people to give? As the Archbishop [Paul Martin SM] says, when people’s faith is on fire, they want to give. When you’ve got flourishing parishes and the faith is flourishing, giving will follow’.

‘Part of my role is to give that sense that we are a community. The context for giving is that we are a faith community. If I get up there and just talk dollars and cents, people are going to turn off.’

While he is eager to be part of the solution, Reuben is also conscious that well-informed ideas about keeping a parish sustainable come from the parish.

‘I’m a big believer in subsidiarity, that where possible, decisions are made at the most appropriate level. Ideas on how to keep a parish sustainable come from local decisions. From what I’ve seen, parishes here are far more active in looking at their future sustainability than in Australia. Parishes here are empowered to come up with those ideas.’

At the same time, says Reuben, there’s a common-good element that needs to be considered. 

‘Subsidiarity needs to be balanced with the common good, what’s good for all parishes as part of an archdiocese, and what’s best for the ongoing sustainability of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Wellington. Canon Law is a part of the mix as well so it’s a case of finding the right balance.’

The larger picture is that we are living through a time of significant change in society and the Church, and we must be flexible, adapt and move with it, says Reuben.

Reuben points to the current Synod that is currently in between sessions as a guide forward. 

‘The synthesis report talks about a Church that is closer to the lives of Her people, less bureaucratic and more relational. I see my role of General Manager is to model this in the way I work within the Archdiocese.’

‘The numbers of clergy are decreasing, and the Archdiocese has been through a process of parish amalgamation. We have to take stock of where we are at, look at where we want to be and come up with a plan to get there. 

‘My mantra for a little while is going to be “we need to do more with less” but I want to change that to say “we need to do more with more”. It’s not that we don’t have the resources, it’s just that we need to use them better. As we grow our resources, we will need to continue to use them to continue to help grow the Church.

So I don’t see it as a declining Church or a diminishing Church. I just see it as a different Church. It’s different in its makeup and it’s different in how we operate. We need to be prepared to use what we’ve got in a different way.’ 

The key to sustainability is building vibrant communities of faith, says Reuben. 

‘If we attract more people, the giving part will look after itself. We shouldn’t be asking people to give more, we should be getting more people to give.’

Reuben heads a team of about 50 staff at the archdiocesan centre, with four key departments – Catholic Social Services, Church Mission, Finance and Education, each of which has a director. His style is collaborative with the directors and himself making up a leadership team.

‘Ultimately what I really want to do is enable staff to do the work – providing services of mission and support to the Archbishop, parishes and the Catholic community in the Archdiocese.’