Over the weekend of 13 – 15 October 2023, the Diocese of Parramatta successfully concluded its inaugural Synod, a momentous event that brought together 280 faithful from across Western Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and beyond to discuss the future of the local Church.
The culmination of over six months of listening and consultation sessions, the Synod was a gathering of 200 selected Members to discuss, discern, and vote on 25 resolutions under the six key themes that were raised as part of the consultation sessions. Over 5,000 people were part of this process and over 1,000 submissions were generated. A Synod Writing Group synthesized all these experiences and information into a Synod Working Document, under the theme: “Behold, I am doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19).”
The six themes were:
- An Inclusive and Welcoming Church
- A Humble and Healing Church
- A Listening Church
- A Church Renewed in Spirit and Prayer
- A Church that Reaches to the Margins
- A Church Walking Together
Joining the 200 Members were 12 Observers representing various Catholic and Christian organisations to provide oversight and validate the proceedings, along with several “Periti” – experts in theology and canon law, as well as many staff and volunteers.
Commencing on Friday evening with an Opening Mass and Commissioning of Delegates at St Patrick’s Cathedral and then moving to CommBank Stadium Parramatta, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta welcomed all as “not passive congregants but protagonists and subjects of evangelisation.”
He continued “the Church cannot be fully itself without involving everyone as co-responsible for its life and mission.”
Bishop Vincent expressed his gratitude to everyone who had participated to date.
“We are conscious that this Synod is not just about those who are here. We are joined in the communion of prayers, love and solidarity by the whole church in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains. In fact, as we are the first Diocese to hold a diocesan synod after the 5th Plenary Council in Australia, many are looking to Parramatta to see how we leverage the energy and output of both the national and the universal synodal processes. What happens here will resonate beyond the walls of CommBank Stadium.”
And he prayed for God’s guidance: “Let the centrality of Christ therefore be the guiding thread of this synod. Let him be the Alpha and Omega of our discussions, let him be the light that illuminates our debates, let him be the final put of all our efforts. I am praying so the Synod will succeed in achieving His own goals.”
Throughout the weekend, members were placed in small groups where they took turns to provide their perspectives, listen actively to others, reflect in silence, and then discuss what they heard from others. This method of spiritual conversations was derived from Ignatian Spirituality and not only gave the event a productive structure but allowed for an opening up and honesty from all participants.
Members then had the ability to speak from the floor, with many lining up to speak on behalf of their tables or of their own experiences.
Facilitated by Professor Br David Hall FMS and Dr Trish Hindmarsh, each session concluded with voting on the resolutions. Twenty-three of the 25 resolutions received the required two-thirds majority, providing Bishop Vincent with an indication of the Holy Spirit is moving within the people of God within the Synod Hall. While resolution 2B regarding continuing to develop meaningful dialogue with local Aboriginal communities was passed, resolution 2C regarding signage or symbols to acknowledge traditional owners and endorse ‘acknowledgement of country’ at gatherings including liturgical celebrations did not pass. Resolution 2C was revised and voted on again, receiving the two-thirds majority by one vote. The updated resolution was “That, in the service of reconciliation, parishes and diocesan agencies discern appropriate ways of acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land.”
Elizabeth Stone, General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia gave closing remarks on behalf of the Observers.
“We’ve had a privileged opportunity to be called to be part of this process. And it’s been a time of personal enrichment. We’ve all felt that. We’ve been growing with you. We found this was a very welcoming space, in fact, a safe space. Everyone coming here knew there’d be tension, but fundamentally, there was respect. And we found you engaged in a very inclusive dialogue.”
Fellow Observer, Patti Beattie, Director of Evangelisation at Broken Bay said: “We commend the Diocese and team for the planning that was undertaken. We’ve observed and witnessed that the Holy Spirit has been present over this weekend. We’ve observed an openness to the sharing of ideas, and voices have been listened to. Concerns were able to be raised and hopes were shared for the church in Parramatta in journeying forward together.”
To conclude the event, Bishop Vincent celebrated Mass stating “We are richer and better not only because we are all like-minded, but more often than not, because we are prepared to learn and enrich ourselves with the insights from others. I want to thank you also for your generosity and magnanimity in working towards consensus and in accepting the results which you might not be in total agreement with.”
“Synodality means that at times we put aside our personal preferences for the sake of the whole. Synodality also means we are walking with each other, but not necessarily at the same speed at times. Therefore, it requires ongoing care, attention, patience and love. If this Synod has taught us anything, it is about the cultivation of mutual relationships.”
“This Synod has been much more than an event. It is a template and a model for engagement, discernment and decision-making process. More than a destination that says we have arrived, it is a journey of ongoing learning, openness and alignment with the Spirit. So as we conclude, we feel energised to begin again. May we go forth into our various environments and become agents of synodality, enabling our families, schools, parishes, agencies to become a community of mutual empowerment.”
For a full recap of the Synod events, you can read the live coverage here.
The photos from the event are found here.
Bishop Vincent’s addresses are also located here.
- Most Rev. Bishop Terry Brady, former Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney (2007-2022).
- Most Rev. Danny Meagher, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney
- Ms Elizabeth Stone, General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia
- Rev. Gary Koo, Anglican Bishop of Western Sydney
- Luke Tobin, Mission Formation Educator, Catholic Mission
- Very Rev. Father Anastasios Bozikis, President of NSW Ecumenical Council
- Patti Beattie, Director of Evangelisation – Diocese of Broken Bay
- Jason Oldridge, Executive Director of Catholic Care
- Sister Dr Margaret Beirne RSC, Sisters of Charity
- Dr Michele Connolly, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies
- Rev Dr Gerard Kelly, Catholic Institute of Sydney
- Dr Rodger Austin, Canon Lawyer
- Professor Br David Hall FMS, Dean of ACU La Salle
- Dr Trish Hindmarsh, BA Melb. B.Ed.Monash, Theol. Sydney, Ed. D. ACU