While walking past the Cathedral, towards my car on Friday night, to drive home from work, I was very conscious of being surrounded by the Communion of Saints. And on Saturday, we also prayed the Litany of our diocesan saints – All you holy men and women, pray for us.
Saturday was indeed a very prayerful day as we gathered with about 300 people, across six hubs, connected by the gifts of technology and our faith. Not only were our six hubs connected, but also online were our two theologians, Fr Richard Lennan in Boston and Dr Maeve Heaney in Brisbane. From Aberdeen, to Taree, to Mayfield, to Maitland, to Booragul, and to Newcastle, we were able to pray, communicate, discern, vote and give voice to our five foundations framework, which was accepted by the majority of Synod Members.
The question asked of the Synod Members, for each foundation, was:
As disciples of Christ, will this Foundational Paper (incorporating minor modification), lead us to be a Christ-centred Church?
We listened to some wonderful storytellers, shared in small groups, “What the Spirit was asking of me”, and then heard back from one person from each hub for each of our foundations. Of course, we prayed together, we shared morning tea and lunch, and we experienced an overwhelming sense of being one body in Christ. I thought it was good to hear back from our theologians, our canonist, Bishop Bill and facilitators at the end of the day. Maeve once again shared with us the quote from John Henry Newman as she had in her video on The Role of the Baptised (Ordained and Non-Ordained):
The Church changes in order to remain the same.
To live is to change.
To be perfect is to have changed often.
And in this the Spirit guides us.
Maeve affirmed our integrated approach as a diocese, in which we are thinking about all aspects of the life of the church and community – parishes, education, social services, health, aged-care, early childhood care and education and shared services, with the intention to grow as missionary disciples.
Richard spoke of his sense of the Spirit being present with us right throughout the entire day. He went on to say that there are two foundational actions in responding to the Spirit. The first is to listen - it is not information, it is stimulus - the Spirit prompts us to be more faithful disciples of Jesus. And the second is that the Spirit prompts movement. He stated that we hear the Spirit when we move, and that “today, that movement is towards being missionary disciples and our priorities have been about concretising that.” He indicated that:
Between sessions two and three of synod we have to go on listening to the Spirit with that sense of being called to move. The orientation of the Spirit is always towards the future and the fullness of the reign of God in Christ but does not dispense with the past and the present. What do we need to receive from the past, what do we hear in the present in order to move into the future, and that movement is one of the fundamental descriptors of the Church the Vatican uses, namely the church as Pilgrim. And pilgrimage by definition is not when we’ve got to get to this point, it’s about being open to what happens along the way…..so the pilgrimage is about the unplanned and the unexpected that you seek to respond to, as creatively and faithfully as possible. It is not anticipated. Faithfulness is an art, and we have to make the path as we walk upon it, and we do that by growing in our own relationship with God in Christ, so we can really be attentive to the Spirit.
A full vision of what it means to be a community of faith therefore requires us to go on listening to the Spirit and so the Spirit speaks in our world, in our present, in our own hearts and in each one of us.
I invite you to go back and listen to the six videos that are on our Diocesan Synod website under the Get Involved tag - https://www.domnsynod.com.au/formation-and-synod-papers/ They are an amazing resource for our personal and communal growth.
What I am increasingly becoming aware of is our constant need to be formed theologically, which Maeve confirmed in her reflection at the end of Saturday. As a sacramental church, we are in constant need of growing in our faith, so we can live out our vocational call to be missionary disciples, and can use our gifts according to the Spirit.
In summary, Bishop Bill said:
The Spirit continues to prompt us on a movement towards missionary discipleship and towards growing in relationship with God through Christ, with each other, and with the wider community. We have agreement to the Spiritual Framework from which we can build.
Our second reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians (12:3-13) reminds us of the vocational call to each of us for the good of Building the Kingdom of God together:
No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit, we were all baptised into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
I implore you to share your gifts with the community in which you find yourself. And I finish this week’s message with the response to this weekend’s Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 103)
Lord send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.
This continues to be our prayer as a pilgrim people seeking to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ.
Thank you to all who gathered on Saturday, to those who volunteered to support the day, to those who prayed for us, and to the Holy Spirit who hovered over us, through us, in us, and with us.