Naturally there was much in common in the challenges faced by both congregations, much the same as you and I have observed in our Catholic Church.
They were parish leaders from both denominations, Catholic sisters, Anglican ministers of both sexes; and men and women involved in their own parishes. Although we were sitting in the newest Catholic primary school in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle (built to cope with growing enrolments in that area), I had no sense of being in a thriving parish. Just across the paddock sits the first stages of a brand new Catholic secondary school.
Chisholm (the suburb) has sprung up in what only few years ago was dairy country, between Morpeth and Thornton. Now of course it is home to hundreds of families. Some of whom are Catholic, but others who aren’t.
Why are the Catholic schools thriving, but not the worshiping community?
That is the question that Bishops Bill and Peter were wrestling with that night.
Does an answer lie in what is being done or in what we are not doing?
In a dialoguing and listening kind of way, all in the room were invited to submit their opinions and ask their own questions of the two speakers.
These ranged from a growing suspicion of churches and other institutions, to the secular nature of our country today which discourages any religious instincts.
Included in the list was the tendency of whole families to avoid the church, with the result that some young people will reach adulthood with little experience of parish based worship; and little knowledge of the scriptures and prayer.
Needless to say nobody in the hall was able to solve this modern dilemma, but it did focus our thinking on what was working and what was not in the churches today.
Can this Liturgy (or Mass) that many us have grown up with, speak to a young person of today? Can they glimpse God’s presence here, through the actions and words of Jesus?
How inclusive are Catholic or Anglican parishes of those whose lifestyle is different? Of different groups in the community?
In the gospel (Mark 10:46-52), Jesus take great care to welcome a man whom society avoided. A man who could not see.
How sensitive are Catholics to people on the periphery?
Perhaps some stay away because they expect they will be rejected or branded a sinner.
What immediately sprung to my mind, was the listening and dialoguing process that is happening in parishes around the Diocese right now.
That group gathered in Chisholm on Tuesday night was pretty-well following the listening and dialoguing process outlined in this flyer.
They were reflecting on the words of the two bishops, on their own experience of church and sharing their personal reactions to the topic, ‘the Churches in Australia today’.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Ward.