TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: The Role of Community Alliances

I wonder what you think of the terms mission and culture, and whether you have any thoughts about our church life here in the Diocese.

This coming week, I will be attending the fourth unit of the Graduate Certificate of Mission and Culture which is being offered by the Australian Catholic University to some of our key leaders across the Diocese. I have spent the last couple of weekends reading and writing in preparation, and am ready with lots of questions and ideas around our mission imperative, as well as our culture.

I wonder what you think of the terms mission and culture, and whether you have any thoughts about our church life here in the Diocese.

I thought for this week’s message I would share with you something of the Hunter Community Alliance (HCA) of which the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is a member. Part of my reading has been around Catholic Social Teaching and I think that our being part of this community alliance meets our call to be engaged in bringing about change and hope to our community.

Our Alliance brings together diverse community organisations - environmental groups, unions, First Nations people, ethnic and cultural groups, organisations from the welfare and health sectors as well as religious bodies, to advance the common good and achieve fair, just and sustainable cities and regions.

The purpose of these kinds of alliances is to strengthen organisations, and the connectivity between them, through focused conversations, training and advocacy so that the common good is advanced. Collaboration builds power. Collaboration is difficult to maintain - that is why there is a strong emphasis on building and maintaining relationships between organisational leaders. Relationships come before the discernment of issues. Such alliances do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Community Alliances come from a community organising tradition that began in 1930’s Chicago. It is the Industrial Areas Foundation that has developed the practice and principles of this kind of organising, and the network has affiliates in more than 60 cities in the USA, major cities in the UK and now in Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland. Every affiliate is separately incorporated, yet as part of a network receives and gives mutual support and mentoring.

Broad Based Community Organising Principles form the basis for the work of community alliances. Hallmarks of similar alliances are:

  • Listening with integrity – between leaders - while also enabling those whose voices are not usually heard
  • Relationships before issues – the Why comes before the What and How
  • Respect for diversity
  • From private concern to public issue
  • An organising cycle involving relating and listening, research and planning, action and evaluation.
  • Decision making by consensus
  • Non-partisan political
  • Leadership development and training
  • Self-funded – does not receive money from government

I have been part of a team of people who have been forming the HCA since 2018. I believe we are called to participate in this type of community organising for the common good, and to renew our civil society of people and groups who care for each other. I hope the actions we take will improve the lives of people in the Hunter.

An important event for the Hunter Community Alliance is coming up, on Wednesday 28 September 2022 from 6pm. We’re holding a community assembly at the Southern Cross Hall, 841 Hunter Street, Newcastle West. I hope you’ll put this in diary and come along. Please don’t hesitate to call if you would like any further information.

The event/RSVP page is here and you’ll find more details here: HCA Event RSVP

Registration is necessary, though there’s no cost. The HCA will invite $ contributions on the night to cover costs, which includes a delicious, shared meal.

This assembly is the next step in the Alliance’s listening campaign. Many people have shared stories about their concerns and visions. This is the ‘discernment’ step in the community organising cycle. We will identify concerns that are widely and deeply felt to decide what issues the Alliance will work on during the coming year, especially in the context of the March 2023 state election.

I am reminded of Pope Francis’ Homily of February 2015 in which he speaks of the church as a field hospital:

Sometimes, I speak of the Church as if it were a field hospital. It’s true: there are many wounded!

So many people need their wounds healed!

This is the mission of the Church:

To heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good, God forgives all, God is the Father, God is affectionate, God always waits for us ... we have to help and create organisations that help in this: yes, because the Lord gives us the gifts for this.

But when we forget this mission, forget poverty, forget the apostolic zeal and instead, place our hope in these human means, the Church slowly slips into becoming a non-governmental organisation, it becomes a beautiful organisation: powerful, but not evangelical, because it lacks that spirit, that poverty, that power to heal.

I also wish to remind you of two of our recommendations in the Mission and Outreach area, at the diocesan synod gathering of May 2021:

  • MO 2.4 – That across the Diocese we connect with community environmental groups and participate in activities supporting education, research, and advocacy around the environment.
  • MO 3.10 - That parishes and agencies of the diocese embrace the teachings of Pope Francis regarding those on the margins, especially the poor, and reach out to all those suffering as a result of “the social ills of inequality, injustice and exclusion that afflict so many.” (Pope Francis, 30 Sep 2020)

Today, Sunday, I attended the Mass Celebrating Diverse Learning for the schools of our diocese. One of the readings they chose was from the Letter of St James (James 3:17-18) and I think it fits in well with this week’s message:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

I am proud that we are actively engaged with other community groups in attempting to listen to people’s stories, to engage with them and to discern together what action might be possible to improve the lives of our neighbours.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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