With church doors opening wide once more, pews filling rapidly and congregations singing, parish communities are regrouping with purpose and joy following the lifting of COVID restrictions. The Diocese of Parramatta’s Liturgical Ministry Formation courses are helping restore some of this normalcy, especially in the lead-up to Easter.
Led by Diocesan Liturgy Educator Sr Mary-Louise Walsh, these courses are designed to equip people who want to serve in their parish in new ways as Readers, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Ministers to the Sick and the Dying, and Ministers at the Altar. “We hope the courses will give people formation, understanding and practical skills to take up their role”, Sr Mary Louise says. Sr Mary Louise is encouraged by the response from parishioners enrolling in the courses. “We have had an excellent response and I have the sense that people are eager to get back to a sense of normality”, she says. “There is a renewed sense of enthusiasm.”
Among those eager to serve in new ways in their parishes are Sandy, Roderick and Revathi, who all attend the current ministry course held at the Bishop Bede Heather Centre in Blacktown.
Sandy, from Our Lady of Lourdes Seven Hills, has always had a connection with the Church. “I was actually born in a church, while my parents were on a pilgrimage!” she says with a smile. A member of the parish for three years, Sandy’s journey towards ministry hasn’t been without challenges. “I only started being involved in ministry this year”, she says. “I hoped to be involved earlier, but unfortunately my mother suffered a stroke in January last year. She only has a speech difficulty now, so I thought I would get involved and become a Minister at the Altar.”
For Roderick, a long-time parishioner at Mary Immaculate Quakers Hill, it’s also the first time to be involved in parish ministry. He says his decision to begin serving as a Minister at the Altar came out of a desire to help. “One gentleman in the parish asked me if I want to become a Minister. I said no, but he said, ‘Think about it’. The current ministers are getting elderly and some are struggling. I thought about it and said I’ll give it a go, just to help out a bit.”
Revathi has been a parishioner at St Andrew the Apostle Marayong since she was a baby, and says she has always been involved in parish life. “I’m an altar server, I’m in the choir, and I’ve also done altar-server training”, she says. “I love being closer to the priest and closer to Jesus.” This is her first experience of a ministry course, and she is looking forward to what it will bring. “I’m pretty excited to be a Eucharistic Minister and a reader, because it’s another way of being involved in the parish and deepening your faith by serving”, she says.
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on many people’s experiences of, and involvement in, church life. “I am originally from Sri Lanka. In 2019 my 23-year-old son passed away after a car accident, and I came here in December that year as a visitor for my mum’s birthday”, Sandy says. “Due to COVID-19 I wasn’t able to go home.” Although she didn’t know anyone in Australia besides her family, and was anxious about doing training sessions and about transport, Sandy still had a desire to get involved in parish life and looks forward to what the course will bring. “I want to serve God in any way I can”, she says.
Revathi describes the experience of church closure during lockdown as “empty”. “Coming back to the community and serving again made me feel really warm and wholesome,” she says. Now looking towards Easter, she says she is filled with excitement. “It felt wrong not going to church on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. I’m very excited to be involved in Easter this year.”
When asked what they might say to someone who may feel anxious returning to church or getting more involved in parish life, Sandy, Roderick and Revathi all share words of encouragement. “When you really think of coming to church and serving, you might not feel like it. You might feel sad or disappointed”, Sandy says. “But I think of that lady who was bleeding for twelve years, and was able to touch the hem of Jesus’ clothes. If anybody like me is going through something, if you can just touch the hem of the Lord, you will be okay.”
Roderick says the most useful thing is simply giving it a go. “I don’t want to tell anyone what to expect, you have to come and experience it for yourself – but you’ll probably like it!” For Revathi, being yourself in ministry and in your relationship with God is crucial. “Don’t try to impress anyone, you’re there to serve”, she says. “You might be scared to minister or come back to church because you feel like you’ve lost connection with God. But God always has his arms open for you.”
The Liturgical Ministry Formation Course concludes with a Commissioning Mass celebrated by Bishop Vincent on 26 May at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
For anyone interested in taking part in this engaging and enriching formation opportunity, the second course offering for 2022 will begin in August. Contact the Office for Worship for more details and to register.