The Parish of Baulkham Hills have boosted the Christmas spirit of their local community by hosting a Christmas Day brunch open to everyone.
Now in its eighth year, the Christmas brunch is an opportunity to gather those who might be by themselves at Christmas in a celebration of community and togetherness. At the most recent brunch, over 100 people were in attendance.
“It [the brunch] is not an act of charity, it’s an act of community,” one of the organisers, parishioner David Dowling, told Catholic Outlook.
“Our faith is a call to community, so we [as a parish] felt that it was really important to offer that.
“Our faith is something that is meant to be lived in community with each other and this event is one step in the direction of encouraging people to ‘live’ church rather than just attend church.
“It’s not a formal function to celebrate Christmas, it is much more about capturing the sense of Christmas and the sense of Church,” he said.
According to the National Centre for Pastoral Research’s Diocesan Social Profile, based on statistics from the 2016 Australian Census, just over 19,000 Catholics across the Diocese of Parramatta live alone.
Fr Wim Hoekstra, parish priest of the Parish of Baulkham Hills, explained, “Christmas is a celebration of God’s love – a love that manifests itself in God’s gift of sending his Son, the Word made Flesh, Jesus, into the world. On Christmas Day, many of us, including myself, go to our families to share this love with each other. It is unfortunate that there are many in our community who have nowhere or no one to go to, so that’s where the Christmas brunch comes in.”
David emphasised that the brunch is a community effort, with parishioners from both St Michael’s Church, Baulkham Hills and Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Baulkham Hills South, helping with food donations, cleaning and decorating the old St Michael’s Church. David also made special mention of the hard work, support and dedication from his wife Deirdre.
Parishioners and people from the local area also offer their time on Christmas Day to attend the event.
David said, “one of the surprising things I have learnt along the way is that the people that come and offer community get as much out of it as the guests that we’re serving.
“We have whole families that come to serve, and this has been their way of getting significance into their Christmas and teaching their kids the significance of Christmas in a society where Christmas gets lost.”
Fr Wim added, “it would not be possible without the generosity of the volunteers who give up their own time to enable this to take place and the many parishioners who have given donations of food and money to make it happen. It is love in action!”
David explained that he sees the Christmas brunch as representing a call for the Church to create “village squares,” as described by Pope Francis in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
“It has that feel of something that our church is supposed to represent in terms of going forth and reaching out beyond the boundaries.
“Nothing distinguishes guests from volunteers – we are all just community.
“While it begins from St Michael’s, it has been stretching out to guests from other parishes and then outside of our church to people who are unchurched, and we are delighted to have had our first Muslim families coming along.
“For some, it’s just a lovely experience of community and for some, it gives them dignity. There’s a whole set of people for whom this [event] gives their Christmas significance in the way that they serve,” David said.
Fr Wim wished to acknowledge the work of other parishes and communities who organise similar events over Christmas.
“I know we’re not the only ones who do something like this on Christmas Day, and I offer thanks to all those involved in like-minded events that so beautifully show the spirit of Christmas.”
David added, “for me, Christmas is a recognition of the gift that we’ve got and a recognition of the gift that we’re called to be to each other.
“This is what Church is supposed to look like.”