Restoration or restorative opportunity?

According to The Australian Oxford Dictionary, restoration can describe “the act or process of bringing something back to its original conditionwhich implies an age factor, a deterioration from the original condition and perhaps loss of functionality.

We generally apply this concept to material things – buildings, furniture, vehicles − which are items of significance or value considered worthy of restoration or renewal. When restored, they can become more valuable, maintain or extend their functionality and demonstrate our respect for them.

St John the Baptist Church, Maitland, offers both restoration and restorative opportunities. In November, it will be 150 years since our first resident Bishop, James Murray, claimed it as his cathedral and formalised the diocese.

Bishop Bill has stated, “St John’s is a piece of our heritage. I have it in my imagination that, like St Francis, I’ll see to the repairs of an ancient church which will long live as a sacred place.”

And so St John’s is undergoing a process of restoration.

Can we go beyond the sandstone blocks and the aesthetics of a building to look more deeply at how this restored church, effectively the birthplace of our Catholic faith in this region, can offer a restorative opportunity?

Dean Lynch and the clergy before him ministered to a growing community of people for whom faith was their rock and their strength. They were the original Missionaries of Mercy, travelling on horseback, covering large distances to share God’s message of love, mercy and hope in small, isolated communities. With the arrival of Bishop Murray, additional priests and religious began to set up churches, schools and pastoral services.

Most of our parishes began as a result of the outreach from this ‘hub’ of the diocese, East and West Maitland, and the centre of that faith was the Cathedral of St John’s. It was integral to the fabric of the Church in this region. It was recognised as the focal point for gatherings and celebrations.

Whilst it has served various purposes over the years, the functionality, condition and value of St John’s have diminished. The centre of the faith of our diocesan community is less well defined and social patterns are now individual rather than communal.

Maybe the restoration can be a catalyst to reflect on and review our faith to see if, like St John’s, it has aged, weakened or lost some significance. Maybe this is an opportunity, as individuals and as a diocese, to rebuild, renovate and restore our faith. Many of us maintain strong links to our place of origin, notwithstanding later journeys. While we may have grown up belonging to different parishes, as a diocesan Church, St John’s is very much our spiritual home.

We are restoring it to its rightful place – “an ancient church which will long live as a sacred place”.

Barry Urwin is Manager, Business and Community Engagement. You can follow St John’s restoration at the diocesan website.

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Barry Urwin Image
Barry Urwin

Barry is the Manager of Business and Community Engagement for the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Diocese.

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