TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Servant Leadership

The target of 80% of people vaccinated in NSW, marks the beginning of greater freedoms for us, while still needing to take precautions. I note that today, Sunday, is International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, commencing Anti-poverty week, with its associated theme, Building Together: Ending Persistent Poverty, Respecting All People on our Planet. We know that there is a divide between those in the developed world who have access to COVID vaccination, and those who are on society’s margins who do not have the benefit of protection from, or treatment of, COVID. We are reminded daily of the disadvantage that many face around our globe, and we can become overwhelmed by their plight.

During the past week, I have attended (via Zoom) a number of Caritas Diocesan Director’s information and formation sessions. Caritas Australia is ‘Hope in Action’. It is the Australian Catholic Church’s international aid and development agency, driven by social justice and the dignity of every person. With hope, support and compassion at the core of what they do, they work towards a world where all people may thrive. Their aid involves working with communities in Australia and overseas, listening to concerns, assessing needs and working with partners on locally-led development programs.

During the week, the Diocesan Directors have been reflecting on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti on Fraternity and Social Friendship. One of the paragraphs spoke to me about how we attempt to assist in the eradication of poverty by standing in solidarity with those we serve:

Solidarity finds concrete expression in service, which can take a variety of forms in an effort to care for others. And service in great part means caring for vulnerability, for the vulnerable members of our families, our society, our people. In offering such service, individuals learn to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, before the concrete gaze of those who are most vulnerable… Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, ‘suffers’ that closeness and tries to help them. Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people. (n. 115)

The Gospel reading for this Sunday from Mark (10:35-45), has Jesus reminding us that anyone wishing to be great among us must be our servant and anyone who wants to be first must be slave to all. We have been speaking about servant leadership in our diocese for the past 30 years. One of the Theological Principles emerging from the Diocesan Synod of 1992/93 Pastoral Plan was about Servant Leadership:

Leadership at all levels within the Church is a ministry of service to God's People.

The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them ... It must not be so among you for whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be your slave even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mt 20:25-28) (DPP 3.7)

I am sure the Synod of Bishops on Synodality will have servant leadership, that leadership that exercises authority lightly in order to help people live and work together, on its agenda. It certainly forms part of our present synodal process and was also on the agenda of the Plenary Council.

Given our present lockdown restrictions, we were unable to have local preparations to launch the Synod of Bishops, which has the theme: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”. We are awaiting further guidance from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference about how dioceses from across Australia will contribute to this global process. There will be an international gathering in 2023. You can find out more about this at: http://www.catholic.org.au/synodalchurch

If you wish to find out more about the timeline for the Plenary Council and the Synod on Synodality you can click here to take you to it.

Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission: “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium. This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s ‘renewal’ proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a gift and a task.”

There are ten themes which don’t look greatly different to what we have been considering in our Diocesan Synod and during the Plenary Council listening and dialogue phase:

  1. Companions on the Journey
  2. Listening
  3. Speaking Out
  4. Celebration
  5. Sharing Responsibility for our Common Mission
  6. Dialogue in Church and Society
  7. Ecumenism
  8. Authority and Participation
  9. Discerning and Deciding
  10. Forming Ourselves in Synodality

I invite you to pray this prayer for this universal synod:

Prayer for the Synod

As we embrace this Synodal Process, this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to be at work in us so that we may be a community and a people of grace.

We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name.

With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go
and how we are to pursue it.

We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path
nor partiality influence our actions.

Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life
and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right.

All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son,
forever and ever.


I am imagining a church made up of the people of God who intentionally live as missionary disciples in order to create a world which looks like the Kingdom of God. When people look at the Catholic Church, I want them to see that we make a difference locally, nationally, and globally. As missionary disciples, we are God’s companions of faith, hope and love. Let’s keep aiming for this new heaven and new earth!


Teresa Brierley
Director Pastoral Ministries
19 October 2021

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Teresa Brierley

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