Strong engagement with Springwood and Lawson
Over 120 parishioners from the parishes of Our Lady of the Nativity, Lawson, and St Thomas Aquinas, Springwood, gathered at the Bishop Manning Learning Centre in Springwood on Tuesday 4th September, 2012. There was an enthusiastic engagement of the five diocesan pastoral priorities. Participants also felt a strong need to speak about local issues which fell outside of the five priorities but which nevertheless impact on their mission as disciples. Challenges included the need for more consideration of the elderly in aged care facilities, stronger engagement of youth in the liturgy, the availability of the sacraments for communities, and the lack of adult faith formation available in the Mountains. While the parishes acknowledged their limited experience of ethnic diversity there was a recognition that they have resources which might be of benefit to other parishes in their deanery and throughout the Diocese.
When conversation began in the area of family life, there was a ready acceptance of younger families with children at Mass (it has been said that “when a child cries it’s the choir of angels!”). It was felt that pastoral visits and the taking of communion by parishioners was a source of comfort for those who were sick or housebound. It was also shared that parishes needed to facilitate more communal activities outside of the context of Mass, for instance courses to help families growth and flourish and to provide opportunities for renewal. There was the suggestion of a ‘men’s shed’ or similar to assist with local projects while also creating sociality and building community. We are certainly aware of such a men’s shed at Baulkham Hills South parish which provides a gathering point for men.
In terms of connecting better with the young it was felt that we need to show our young people the beauty of the Mass and to use a language suitable for teaching and proclaiming the Gospel to that age group. The issue of transport was a challenge for the towns of the Mountains but there was a desire to gather the youth together from Lawson, Katoomba, Springwood and Glenbrook when possible. One sacramental challenge being faced in the vicinity is the need for confessions to be booked for youth are often unwilling to ring for this. It was observed that the young people are coming to youth group but not going to Mass and so meaningful connections with the liturgy and the broader parish community need to be strengthened. There was an argument for more simple readings at Mass for children and a desire to include youth more within the liturgy as readers and altar servers. Homilies need to speak to the issues in young people’s lives and the lives of their families, with additional suggestions being the employment of a full-time youth minister with a focus on the 18+ age group in tertiary education and the need of more faith formation, especially in high schools.
While it was acknowledged that the parishes have limited experience of ethnic diversity and have limited knowledge about what happens in other parishes of the Diocese, there were teachers in the Springwood-Lawson area whose skills could benefit other parishes either in the Mountains or in other areas of the Diocese, it was suggested. For instance, such persons could share practical living skills and also help to enable intercultural exchange within other communities of faith where such diversity exists. There was also the challenge of recognising the local Indigenous members of the Blue Mountains as a significant ethnic group and the outreach of parishes to them. A way forward may be for parish “pairings” whereby less ethnically diverse and more ethnically diverse parishes invite each other to liturgies and social gatherings. It was felt that we need to incorporate Indigenous aspects (or at least a respect towards them) into our liturgies.
In the area of clergy and laity, there was an expressed need to adapt or change attitudes and expectations of both groups. On the one hand, there is a need to respect and honour the humanity of clergy, encouraging more social contact with the community. On the other hand, there is a need to give more responsibility to the laity. Linked to this is the need for better communication and consultation between clergy and laity. Formation is needed for both clergy and laity and one of the key areas identified was adult formation e.g. Bible study groups. There was the suggestion that parishes (e.g. 3 parishes) share the cost and services of a business manager, freeing the priest to focus on his ministry over administration.
In terms of the new evangelisation it was felt that E-conferences on faith are well presented and that faith-talks given by local priest Fr Eugene Stockton have been valuable in the area. The role-modelling of faith by Fr Peter Connelly at St Columba’s College was seen as important. There was a real need to inject dynamism and passion into our personal witness of the Word of God in our lives. Some of the challenges faced by parishioners included the inadequacy of trying to evangelise their own children; a lack of knowledge of the Scriptures and the Catechism; a lack of encouragement of each other and networking with each other and not having a strong sense of community identity. Developing a website could disseminate information about what was on and be an important tool of evangelisation. There was a perception that the Catholic Outlook and its public image was very centred on the priesthood and the Bishop without the same acknowledgment of lay participation and leadership. It was felt that effective evangelising needs to begin with a commitment of the laity to come alongside visitors and newcomers to parishes in a spirit of welcome. Social outreach and good works were also seen as effective tools of evangelisation. Catholic schools could also be effective centres of evangelization, outreaching to parents who are ‘unchurched’ or otherwise disengaged from the life of faith.
The large gathering of parishioners showed a real concern for the present and future pastoral directions in the Blue Mountains. The Bishop Manning Learning Centre provided an ideal place for the pastoral planning consultation. There was a real sense of energy and purpose in the evening and a willingness to engage in new and also well-tried ways of bringing the Gospel to people. Our thanks go to all participants and the local organisers who made it all possible.
Fr. Paul Marshall