But it is my daily experience that our community is filled with people who have the heart and goodness of Jesus within them and who are led to live by faith, and to show their love in action, by and in and because of their experiences within the People of God. Our church community, for all its many faults, is still where people find God and find the courage to work for the Kingdom.
Of course, it is axiomatic that ‘the Kingdom of God does not admit of observation’ (Luke 17:20). To put that another way, the life of the church is like the proverbial iceberg, ninety percent of it is below the surface. An annual ‘Review’ cannot tell of the person who, after years of bearing anxious guilt, has known the blessing of finding forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance and begun to rebuild his or her life. We can’t particularise the joy and the spiritual ‘lift’ for the catechist who has seen a child suddenly begin to understand what Jesus did for us. We only very occasionally hear what it meant to someone to see a grandparent pass peacefully from this life, sustained by confidence in the Lord of Mercy who would receive them ‘home’. I’m told there are even people who are occasionally inspired by the passionate talk of the community’s hopes and dreams that will (sometimes) break out at a Parish Council meeting! Such things are of the inner and mostly hidden life of Christ’s people. They generally do not admit of observation.
Still, I am pleased and impressed by the degree of reflective, qualitative comment on events of the year in the pages you are about to read. True, in the next few pages my Vice‑Chancellors and Directors do a good deal of enumerating various public developments, new programs and projects that have taken shape in their particular departments. They steal some of my thunder, if I may say so; but I must let you read of those things in their proper places. In later pages, however, where particular events or experiences are recounted, participants do talk about how these things have affected them and others. They lift the lid a little on what the Spirit does in our diocese.
God, however, does not normally do things without the cooperation of his people. Our God has a peculiar commitment to Incarnation, to being present and at work in the world through people. So I am enormously grateful for the skills and dedication of so many people who work for the diocese. As you read of our services to the disabled, of the provision of affordable housing and childcare, of new social services and refugee services, of programs to develop the capacity of our parish leaders and, importantly, our young people, and of many other things, spare a moment for thankfulness that we have the people who can take up dreams and make them happen. We are very well served by our professional staff and our volunteers.
It was a special pleasure and grace to me to ordain a young man, Peter Street, to the priesthood at the very end of 2014. I will have had the pleasure by the end of 2015 of admitting three young men to ‘Candidacy’ for diaconate and priesthood, a mark of their advanced stage of preparation, and to ordain one of them as a deacon. I honestly do not know how their priesthood, or the ministry of deacons, will pan out in the years ahead, except that it is clear that they will work alongside many lay ministers and leaders of the community. Whatever the ‘structures’ may be, however, the ministry of preaching the gospel and celebrating the Mass and sacraments remains vital. It is encouraging to see some revival in the numbers willing to give their lives to it.
Finally, the tale of two churches. The work on restoration of St John’s Chapel at Maitland (1846) is well under way. The work on an entirely new church at Belmont is nearing completion. There is some sort of parable there. We are a people with a story to preserve and treasure; we are a people who must be able to move on and do new things that suit our time. A new church, and an old church. ‘Ever old and ever new’? Perhaps you may see that reflected in these pages, in our church in 2015.
Article originally published in the the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle Year in Review 2015.