With the first session of the Plenary Council fast approaching, the Australian Church faces one of the most significant moments in its life and mission. It’s also a very hopeful moment, and for Briony and Jesse Mowbray, this hope has inspired them to participate in the Council’s planning, listening and discernment stages.
Related: Why a Plenary Council?
Jesse and Briony are actively involved in their parish of St Finbar’s in Glenbrook, where they help coordinate a Bible study group and are involved in the Pastoral Council and Finance Committee respectively. They describe their involvement in faith and in their parish community as life-giving. “In those formative years, before we got married, we sort of claimed the faith for our own, and since then being active and participating has been a really important aspect for us”, Briony says.
When preparation for the Plenary Council began to take place within the parishes, Briony was asked to coordinate her parish’s involvement. With another parishioner, she helped facilitate ten listening and dialogue groups involving people from across the parish. She describes this opportunity as a privilege which left her feeling hopeful and optimistic, yet also apprehensive. “I think there is a sense of expectation about changes that might follow the Council. I really pray that there is an authentic, Spirit-led and well-communicated response to these expectations, particularly those that cannot be met, and which present an opportunity for deeper conversion”, she says. “But I also think it’s fundamentally true that the Spirit is present and speaks through the voice of the Church.”
Jesse also felt apprehensive at the beginning and, he admits, quite sceptical. “Some of the aspirational goals they were talking about were big things that I really didn’t see changing, and I saw a lot of potential for miscommunication, hurt and division in the Church. I’m definitely a glass-half-full person, so this was unusual for me”, he says. Getting involved in the listening and discernment phase, along with prayer and reflection, helped him to be more receptive and open to the potential of the Spirit. He even describes himself as “coming full 180”, eventually finding himself working on the agenda-writing group for the topic of Liturgy. “It was a wonderful, difficult and hopefully fruitful process with a diverse and faith-filled group”, he says.
The parish’s listening and discernment process had a galvanising impact which both Briony and Jesse hadn’t anticipated. “By virtue of being a small group with people of all different ages and experiences and expressions of faith, we had very rich, open and honest sharing. And there were things that came out of our discussion that made us say as a parish, ‘We can do something about this here at St Finbar’s’”, Briony says.
Both Jesse and Briony say they believe God is asking the Australian Church to enter a rediscovery of its identity, and they are hopeful the Plenary Council will help this take shape. “Some exciting things I hope will come out of this discernment process would be an Australian vision of Church, a very real understanding of what it is to be a sacramental people rooted in Christ in Australia”, Jesse says. It is returning to this foundation, adds Briony, that will enable us to help others. “It’s in coming back to that centre in Christ, through the Plenary Council, that the Church in Australia can discover who she is”, she says. “And when we know who we are, we can be the light for others and draw them into communion.”
You are invited to meet the Members of the Plenary Council from the Diocese of Parramatta at a special BE MET HOME Ground online gathering on Thursday 16 September at 7.30am. The focus of the evening will be sharing feedback on the Agenda questions for the first assembly. Email MET@parracatholic.org for the Zoom link or watch it on the Diocese of Parramatta Facebook page.
The first assembly of the Plenary Council will see nearly 280 members drawn from all Catholic dioceses in Australia, meeting online to discuss the Agenda questions from 3 to 10 October 2021. You are invited to consider the Agenda questions and provide your feedback to them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Your feedback will be passed to the members of the Plenary Council from the Diocese of Parramatta.