For those of you who read my message from last week you would be aware that Allen and I have spent the last week away celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary.

We chose to revisit Thredbo, the place of our honeymoon, as well as doing a road trip to visit our two sons, one in Canberra and the other at Mt. Buller in the Victorian snow fields.

We travelled home on Saturday (16/5) and so left the snow of Mt. Buller travelling down the mountain to a brisk beautiful Victorian day and arrived home many hours later in the rain. The weather for us over the past week has defined our holiday – strong winds, snow, rain, very cool temperatures, frost and very little sun. We have driven through Alpine country, through the Dandenongs, seen the spectacular Lake Hume, crossed the Murray, Murrumbidgee and many other rivers, walked along the shores of Bass Strait, and basically been captivated once again by the amazing country we call home. We even drove through Bonnie Doon, made famous in the movie, “The Castle”. The Victorian farmlands, dotted with cattle and sheep, are spectacular. How good it is to just stop for one week and take to the road. We are both blessed for this time together and for God’s amazing, unpredictable creation. The snow and the angry ocean still linger in my memory.

A theme that has been unfolding in my messages during this year is that of family and the parish as family. You may recall that I recently attended the National Pastoral Planners Network Conference (NPPN) in Adelaide and this week I would like to explore with you one of the talks given at that Conference by Trudy Dantis, a Pastoral Research Officer working on the Building Stronger Parishes Research Project (www.buildingstrongerparishes.catholic.org.au). Two of our parishes featured in this study – Sugarloaf and Myall Coast Parishes.

Before breaking open some of Trudy’s research, I thought I would share with you some reflections that occurred to me during my week away. As I said, we visited one of our sons who works in hospitality at a resort in Mt. Buller. The season has not yet opened, so presently there are a few staff preparing the resort for the start of the snow season. Because the resort is not officially opened, Allen and I were able to stay as his special guests and he was able to show us around most of the rooms and facilities for both staff and guests. They call this industry ‘hospitality’ but to my surprise or disappointment, hospitality is the value only for the guests, but it is not really afforded to the staff who work behind the scenes. The staff accommodation and staff eating area were very poor in this elite resort. The expectation on staff far exceeds the hours for which they are paid. Management does not appear to be satisfied and gratitude is missing. So on the surface when guests arrive, all looks wonderful but the behind the scenes reality is not like this. I wonder how much more excellent and successful this business would be if they really cared for their staff by being generous and gracious. By the way this is one of the award-winning resorts in this location.

This got me thinking of our diocese and parishes where we seem to use the word hospitality as a key value. I wonder how we appear on the ‘outside’ but also what is the reality of what is going on – as my son called it ‘the politics’ of the daily grind of dealing with people and situations. If we truly value something then it needs to penetrate the whole organisation or in our case church. It is not just about how it looks and feels to the external world but how it looks and feels for all those involved, especially those who are committed to making it work.

So what are the essential elements of what makes a parish vital or a quality parish?

  1. Vocation
  2. Liturgy
  3. Hospitality
  4. Community
  5. Mission
  6. Outreach
  7. Leadership
  8. Planning

I imagine that most of you can see the connection with our own Five Foundations:

  1. Identity and Community
  2. Worship and Prayer
  3. Formation and Education
  4. Mission and Outreach
  5. Leadership and Structure

So it seems to me, our parishes like the Mt. Buller Resort, have the right language and intelligence of knowing how it should be, but our reality is quite different. I wrote down the following four questions at the conclusion of the presentation by Trudy.

a)     How do we take people from consumers to contributors?

b)     How does Eucharist become the heart of who we are as the Catholic Church?

c)     What do we do about the bruised catholic family?

d)     How do we grow disciples?

Volunteers Week has just finished and at the end of this week each year, Bishop Bill invites all those who serve voluntarily at the diocesan level to a thankyou Mass and dinner. I am certainly grateful to the many hundreds who give of their time and talents to serve the diocesan church on its many Councils and in its many ministries. And what a great day, the Ascension, to celebrate this! Here we are forty days out from Easter with Jesus reassuring his apostles that they will not be left alone, but that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them, and then they will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:1-11). And in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says to the Eleven; ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.’ (Mark 16:15-20). And we heard from Paul (Ephesians 4:1-13) his imploring us to lead a life worthy of our vocation. “Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit....there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.”

So we are left to wonder and to hope for the Spirit’s guidance as we journey along. When I grasp elements of this, as I did with the volunteers who came along to our gathering of gratitude, and felt their joy in serving, then I am left thinking all will be well.

I finish this week’s message with the following story of part of Allen's and my holiday. In planning our trip we looked up when and where Mass would be for us last weekend. We knew we would arrive in Thredbo some time on Saturday. We discovered that Mass would be celebrated at Mary MacKillop Chapel, Thedbo on Saturday at 5pm. So we planned our day around this. Upon arriving in Thredbo, the weather was miserable, raining, windy and very cold. However, we ventured out and when leaving our accommodation we could hear, to our delight, the peal of the church bells ringing out across Thredbo. As we walked into this beautiful chapel, there was just one other person there, Fr. Peter Miller, who welcomed us warmly and we shared our stories. He is Parish Priest of six Mass Centres/Parishes and is stationed at Jindabyne. We were the only people to celebrate Mass with him on that night. He made us feel at home and prayed with us for our love and marriage of forty years. We in turn prayed with him for his twenty-six years of ordained priestly ministry which he had celebrated on the previous day. We read the readings and gathered around the Eucharistic Table with him. It was a wonderful, intimate celebration of Eucharist. Fr. Peter made us feel special and while it would have been great to have the chapel full, it was good for us to be together.

And in meeting with our son at Mt. Buller he took us to his sacred place – the summit when he enjoys watching the sunset especially in winter when he catches the chairlift, then snowboards and walks to the summit where there may be up to fifty people present. Then, once the sun has set, he snowboards back down the mountain in the dark with the thrill of adrenalin running through his veins. I have no doubt that in his own way he is connecting with the Mystery. Interestingly, from here he immediately drove us to the church (Catholic, Anglican and Uniting) at Mt. Buller, a place he had not previously visited. While this was not open at the time, we could see the interior and feel its importance in this beautiful place.

So in these challenging times we need to be authentic witnesses to the Good News of Jesus. Bringing the joy of the Gospel into our lives and the lives of those we meet. Trust that the Holy Spirit is with us and will guide us. Wherever and whenever we can go and make disciples by becoming disciples.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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