TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: The future of our Diocese

How lovely to see, feel and hear the rain and to sense the cooler air on our skin. Thank you God, for such a refreshing break from what we have been experiencing.

During the week I encountered a lot of people in a variety of settings and I name some of them:

  • Centered on God…. Sent on Mission Seminar Day with Sr Mary Pat Garvin RSM
  • Bishop’s Leadership Forum
  • Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Committee
  • The Diocesan Synod Working Party meeting
  • Pastoral Ministries new staff orientation
  • Nelson Bay Parish Pastoral Council meeting
  • Hunter Community Alliance pre-sponsoring committee catch-up

And so, this week’s reading from the Sunday Gospel, highlights for me, and I trust for you, what it looks like to let your light shine!! (Matthew 5:13-16)

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

About fifty-five people gathered on Friday, in the old nun’s chapel at Calvary Mater for the Bishop’s Leadership Forum. Present were people from the Council of Priests, the Council for Mission, leaders from the staff of the diocese and leaders from Catholic agencies across the diocese. The day was titled “Leading for Mission” and throughout the day, we reflected upon what that looks like for us, individually and collectively. There is no doubt that the Catholic Church provides a significant number of services across our diocesan footprint – worship and prayer, formation and education, mission and outreach in parishes and pastoral ministries, social services, school education, early childhood education, refugee services, providing for those who are on the margins through DARA and St Vincent de Paul, aged care in facilities and in people’s homes, health care, affordable housing…..  Presently the diocese employs about 4000 people, and more are employed by other Catholic providers across the diocese. In each of these organisations and across parishes, there are many more thousands who give generously of their time voluntarily to serve the community.

I wonder if the wider community is even aware of this light shining in the Hunter.

I have written a few times before in my messages about being in a liminal space. The place in between where we are and where we are going. Gerard Goldman, the facilitator for the Bishop’s Leadership Forum, spoke about our being leaders in this liminal time. The betwixt and between time and place. We spent time exploring the way life had changed over the past 20 years, before we began to imagine how life might be in 20 years’ time. This time of liminality is a place of vulnerability, as we are in a space of change, not only in the church but within humanity. We are living in the tension and the mess, and yet we are called to be a light to the nations, to be salt for the earth. We must continue to be meaning makers and map makers, explorers if you like.

Just to name some of what was noticed in this time of change:

  • Globalisation
  • Growing nationalism
  • Environmental movement
  • Technology
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Mistrust/trust deficit
  • Lack of respect
  • A move towards collaboration
  • Shift of traditional powers
  • Redefinition of leaders
  • Change in ethical and moral leadership
  • Immediacy of communication
  • Heightened awareness of global issues

This preceded the call for the group to respond to the question:

“What are the emerging ideas and challenges for the next 10-20 years in the Diocese?”

The following responses emerged (these are from my abbreviated notes) for conversation starters:

  1. Women in the church
  2. Discipleship – the strength that comes from a living faith in God
  3. What do we need to let go of?
  4. Gender diversity
  5. Inclusive, synodal church
  6. Pastoral imperatives
  7. Ecological relationships
  8. Emergence of new models of community
  9. Discern the core of our diocesan catholicity

Some of these topics were then merged before groups were formed to explore emerging ideas.

Bishop Bill was asked to respond to the leaders at the end of the day, based on what he heard and what caught his attention. I share with you what I noted as his response. He began by saying he would not repeat what had been said but would share with us the meta-narrative that was unfolding for him.

  1. There appears to be an interplay between the questions of structures of our church and the people who populate them. There is a call for institutional reform along with the need to grow relationships. We are living with the tension between structures (the things we do) and people and community (who we are).
  2. The possibilities which reside in the face to face and people’s experience of Christ. All ministries are relational and interpersonal.
  3. We need to have occasions like this forum where we bring people together, because there is a level of unawareness of the whole church of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. It is important to listen and discern, to sift what is good and to be inclusive.
  4. There exists common ground or connections:
         a. Communities are at the heart of things
         b. We have a great deal to offer – faith, healthcare, welcome, Christ’s message and we need to find better ways to do this
         c. Address, engage with the key questions of our time:
                                i.   Environment
                                ii.  Sexuality
                                iii.  Human life
                                iv.  Place of women
                                v.   War/peace
                                vi.  Inequality of wealth

          d. Church as Institution – the need for churches to be places where individuals/community can live their lives as people of faith and not as a place that stands in their way. We are here to serve and not be served.

    And now to finish this message with a quote from Susan Rakoczy (Great Mystics and Social Justice; Walking on the Two Feet of Love) provided for us on Saturday by Sr Mary Pat Garvin RSM:

    The journey to union with God is not a matter of a few good resolutions or a plan of life; it is a process of a lifelong and intense conversion and transformation of the whole person. This is the call to all believers, the call to holiness as a life of full-hearted love of God and others.

    I believe this quote provides a good summary to some of the conversation we had during the Diocesan Synod Working Party on Wednesday. While we have an enormous amount of data, we are challenged to bring people to conversion, transformation and holiness.

    Let’s see where and how the spirit calls us and leads us.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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