It has been twelve months since Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, offered his diocesan forum address on, ‘Envisioning the Church in Western Sydney for the New Millennium’. At a recent Saturday Session, participants revisited his address and reflected on how the Holy Spirit is calling us to ‘Go out into the Deep’.
The 25 Saturday Sessions participants agreed on the richness and inspiration in the Bishop’s words as well as lots of challenges. In particular, they took note of the Bishop’s invitation to be part of the process to tackle a number of issues including leadership, new initiatives and what role the laity can play.
In small groups, participants identified that good leadership is up to each and every one of us. To really hear what the Holy Spirit is asking of us as we respond to the challenges, we need to move from comfort zones into a space of honest dialogue, listening and discernment. Whilst the challenges remain, we need to focus on what we can do rather than on what we cannot do in order to respond well to Bishop Vincent’s invitation.
Despite the talk being offered twelve months ago, it spoke directly into the experience of today and the response of the Church to COVID-19. Bishop Vincent in his address stated, “The Church is being reborn in ways beyond the traditional structures. Like the river that has changed its course, we have a choice to make. It is not in yearning for or holding on to the known, the secure and the familiar but in reimagining the future and venturing into the unknown chaos that we shall find new life.”
Twelve months ago, the participants would never have imagined the impact of COVID-19, but now saw the pandemic provides the opportunity to try something new. When challenges surfaced, with the support of a whole community and wider networks, parishes and communities developed amazing new initiatives and new ways of continuing existing offerings when physical gatherings are difficult.
Amongst the positivity, challenges were also named. Participants felt it was important for the laity to walk together with the priests of our communities and to offer their gifts and talents to invite others to know Christ. In our communities, there are many opportunities to step up and be part of the process of growth and change.
Participants recognised that sometimes parishioners are told, “No sorry. This cannot happen in our community.” Discussion revealed the important role of dialogue which involves a “deep respectful listening and collective discernment”, especially with our priests and the leadership of our Diocese. Everyone agreed that there is great richness in the tradition of our Church, and the balance lies in both honouring and respecting that tradition and responding to the signs of the times.
As a People of God, we have been commissioned by our baptism to share the Good News. And we are invited to do that now. Initiatives like Alpha and Saturday Sessions, plus the many small group discussions taking place via video conferencing in our parishes are practical examples of how we have accepted the call to live the mission of Christ and share the good news – to go out into the deep – responding to the signs of the times, to be the community that Christ calls us to be.
Saturday Sessions is an initiative by the Pastoral Planning Office, Diocese of Parramatta. It offers online conversation and group sharing for anyone who has a desire to grow and share faith.
People are invited to come together to share thoughts in response to a video or audio piece that they have been given to watch or listen to prior to the conversation.
A different speaker and topic is offered each week and offers a perspective on life and faith. Participants are encouraged to take this initiative into faith communities as another way to be creative in love and respond to such a time as this. Contact Lisa at email@example.com for information.
To read the Bishop’s address visit https://www.parracatholic.org/bishop-vincents-address-to-the-diocesan-forum-2019/
Lisa Bright is the Project Officer for the Pastoral Planning Office for the Diocese of Parramatta.