The COVID-19 pandemic caused the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to reimagine the second session of its first synod in more than three decades. Still, its parishioners are now gearing up across six sites including Aberdeen, Booragul, Hamilton, Mayfield, Maitland and Taree, to cast their vote on matters concerning the Church's future.
More than 230 commissioned synod members, varying in age from 19 to 87, will have their say on issues including women in leadership, homelessness, care for the environment, communication, cultural diversity, protection for the marginalised including refugees, interfaith dialogue, and youth engagement.
It is the only Catholic synod process currently underway in Australia, amplifying the significance of results to the Vatican.
The Diocese's Bishop, Bill Wright, says that many of these issues have been used as topical election platforms by politicians in recent weeks, but that the Church has been formally consulting on these matters for more than 18 months as part of its synod process.
"Very frequently, synods are convened for a special purpose or particular issue. But our Diocese's synod is more akin to the Second Vatican Council, convened more generally to discuss a broad range of matters concerning the future of the Church in a local context," Bishop Bill said.
The second session of the synod will come to a close this Saturday. At its conclusion, the Diocese will adopt 'Statements of Intent' regarding desired outcomes emerging from parishioner feedback.
"We will then gather for the third session of the synod in November and translate our Statements of Intent into action, paving a way forward at a practical and concrete level," said Bishop Bill.
Despite the Church and State hosting polling on the same day, Bishop Bill is confident that any fanfare regarding voting will be limited to the by-election.
"I have faith that the Holy Spirit will guide parishioners as they consider how the Church can aid our community in ways political parties cannot," said Bishop Bill.
"This Synod is not an event, nor is it simply an assembly of people," Bishop Bill said. "It is a process by which we examine and reflect on the state of the Church, drawing on our faith to find ways to fulfil our calling to be the body of Christ and to witness His gospel and His salvation in our community."