TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Identity and community

For those who read last week’s message, you may recall that I indicated that I would take the opportunity over the coming weeks to break open the concept I introduced to you, from my Hunter Community Alliance training, about private pain, pressure or motivation and intentional public action for the common good and how that might relate to our work toward the diocesan synod.

It is at the place of intersection, between the private and the public that our creative, transformational, exploratory and imaginative ability and energy to act takes place.

On Saturday, Fr Matthew Muller and I facilitated a pastoral planning morning for the parishioners of All Saints Parish, Blackbutt South (Adamstown, Cardiff and Kotara). Almost 50 people engaged in the morning as we pondered the strengths, challenges (weaknesses), opportunities and threats of the parish and then shared the possible pastoral plans under the five foundations of church life:

  • Identity and Community
  • Worship and Prayer
  • Formation and Education
  • Mission and Outreach
  • Leadership and Structure

It was good to be with Fr Joseph Figurado, the parish priest, and the parishioners who engaged with energy and a real wish to take ‘public action’. Once again, they are ready to make a difference in the community in which they find themselves as they are keen to be a missional church.

So, over the coming weeks I will share with you some of the work the Diocesan Synod Working Party is focusing on, as part of the Discernment of Data Focus Group. Within this group there are five Focus Teams based on the five foundations.

The Discernment of Data Focus Group reviewed the data from the first session of our own diocesan synod of November last year as well as information coming from the Plenary Council, particularly the information gathered from our diocesan submissions. This enormous amount of data was then allocated into the five foundations.

Within the foundation Identity and Community, the following key areas were identified:

  1. Communities/Families
  2. Relationships
  3. Listening
  4. Welcome
  5. Diversity of Gifts
  6. Small Communities

The members of the Discernment of Data Focus Group then listed what had been heard, under each of the key areas.

  1. Communities/Families

Given that our diocesan Plenary Council and Synod respondents saw a Christ-centred Church as a community:

    • focused on Jesus, the Word of God, committed to continuing his mission of bringing the Good News of God’s love to our world, witnessing in society to his teachings
    • that sees Jesus as their friend, as part of their community, not as another program to make him real to us
    • where all members understand and live out their baptismal call and seek to be Christ-like: joyful, loving, accepting, healing, prayerful; to reflect in all they do the gospel values of justice, compassion, forgiveness, peace, equality, freedom
    • where all feel they are valued as people of God – no conditions on belonging – showing what it means to be unconditionally loved by God
    • that addresses the realities of people’s lives from childhood to the grave, in language that is easily understood, that encourages the participation of all - children, young people, parents - with all the challenges which that might involve
    • that is a pilgrim people - prioritising mission over maintenance, not a power hierarchy or institution structured around “ordination”
    • that actively functions as a human community - as God’s people, rather than seeing a building as the key ingredient of our catholic identity

  1. Relationships

Given that our diocesan Plenary Council and Synod respondents identified as central to a Christ-centred church the need to:

    • have a relationship with God, others, self and creation
    • honour, value and respect each other and the differences by seeing Christ in oneself and the other; to encourage a sense of worth and belonging in everyone we encounter
    • strengthen our parish communities so that they become centres of joy, hope and service to their own members and the wider community
    • grow in our understanding of what it means to be a missionary disciple sent forth at the end of Mass, to continue Jesus’ mission in daily life
  1. Listening

Given that our Plenary Council and Synod respondents emphasised the importance of being a Christ-centred Church that listens to:

    • the voice of the Spirit in everyone, believer or non-believer
    • the disconnected, the disillusioned, the confused, as well as the joy-filled, to all without judgement
    • others’ certainties, others’ ways of saying things, other ways of looking at what we see
    • those with whom we disagree in order to ‘learn and not to refute’, willing to face our own prejudices, to discover what the Spirit may want us to hear
  1. Welcome

Given that our diocesan Plenary Council and Synod respondents recognised that in being a Christ-centred Church there are individuals and groups who do not feel welcome in our church:

    • the elderly, the poor, young people, newcomers, single parents, divorced/remarried people, Catholics who no longer attend church, the disabled, the marginalised, the vulnerable and those at risk, refugees and asylum seekers, those of other cultures, of different faiths, survivors of sexual abuse, those of different sexual orientation
  1. Diversity of Gifts

Given that our diocesan Plenary Council and Synod respondents recognised that in being a Christ-centred Church we need to:

    • recognise the belief that all are made in the image and likeness of God
    • discern, use, and rejoice in the call and gifts given by the Spirit to all people – women, men and children
    • embrace and celebrate diversity of God’s gifts within our communities
    • recognise our own incompleteness, and appreciate that no individual or group is sufficient by itself, that we are all ‘on a journey’
  1. Small Communities

Given that our diocesan Plenary Council and Synod respondents recognised that in being a Christ-centred Church we need to:

    • encourage small communities for believers and searchers
    • explore new models of community
    • learn from other church communities who are doing ‘mission’ well
    • form small faith sharing groups in the parishes, e.g. Family Groups, Alpha, Cells, Cursillo

The Focus Teams are now discerning the recommendations or proposals coming from these observations which will then be circulated for further discernment from the wider diocesan community.

While listening to the weekend Mass readings, the reading from St Paul to the Romans (11:33–36) spoke to me about trusting in God’s wisdom and knowledge, even in times of deep unknowing, for from God, through God and in God, are all things:

How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord? Who could ever be his counsellor? Who could ever give him anything or lend him anything? All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen.

And then in the Gospel (Matthew 16:13-20), we have Peter’s great profession of faith, after Jesus asks his disciples about who he is. To this flawed human being, Jesus says:

You are Peter, the rock on which I will build my Church; the gates of hell will not hold out against it.

Such is the faith upon which we continue to build this Church, with our eyes fixed on the One who redeems us. We are being called to imagine a way forward to those areas that we have identified as needing collective and intentional action.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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