Growing our Faith Together with Blackheath and the Upper Blue Mountains
On Saturday 15 September, 2012, we joined the parishes of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop Parish, Upper Blue Mountains, and Sacred Heart Parish, Blackheath for the final consultation of this phase of the planning process. It was an immensely rich conversation, full of energy and a sincere willingness to discuss and listen to one another about the best ways of realising our common mission as Church. Thank you to all for the warm welcome and the graciousness with which we were received.
Parish priest of Blackheath, Fr Bob Sheridan led us in prayer as we turned to discuss the present features of the Diocese before addressing our hopes for the future. It was encouraging to see the level of engagement throughout the afternoon, with participants freely raising questions and sharing a diversity of perspectives in good faith.
The participants that addressed family life affirmed the good work of St Vincent de Paul and other social support organisations that were meeting the needs of families and those in difficult circumstances, both locally and throughout the greater Diocese. In the face of growing needs, it was heartening to learn of community initiatives including the support of single Catholic families by older parishioners.
One of the affirmations of the afternoon was that many forms of outreach and service need not wait for a Diocesan Pastoral Plan but, as acknowledged in our interim report, can be realised more locally and immediately with appropriate parish planning and collaboration, existing parish teams and resources. However, it is hoped that the Diocesan Pastoral Plan will assist parishes by raising ideas and recommendations for local application, drawing on the wisdom of all forty-nine of our parish communities. As we look back over the past eight months, we recognise that each of our parishes have their own histories, strengths and pastoral concerns but these, rather than isolating our communities, stands to bring much richness to the recommendations as we review the insights of the past months of conversation.
There was a felt need to invite and welcome tentative or more timid Catholics to actively participate in the life of the Church, contributing their gifts to the whole. A further area of need strongly identified throughout the afternoon was the need to attend to the elderly, including those who are housebound and in aged care facilities. It was suggested that an increase in such services in the Mountains be considered and we certainly hope to engage CatholicCare in these important issues. Family retreats were raised as a forward opportunity and the centrality of joyful witness was recognised to be at the heart of our capacity to be an evangelising Church, an evangelising Catholic family. Other local issues were raised in writing which will be taken up by the planning team.
In the area of youth, the support of young people attending World Youth Day was named as a strength though some raised issues of equity in the accessibility of these overseas experiences for all young people throughout the Diocese. The capacity of parents to transmit the faith to their children was also questioned and so formation was advanced as a key and ongoing commitment for the Diocese. Forming young people in Scripture and Christian morality were seen as vital and it was essential to do so without condescension.
The collaboration of laity and clergy was another theme of the afternoon. Lay involvement in liturgical ministries, faith formation activities and the Institute for Mission were affirmed as awakening the baptismal discipleship of the laity though it was asked that consideration be given to the provision of courses and formation close to the Mountains deanery. There was enthusiasm for the expansion of the diaconate and of the support of deacons working in collaboration with parish priests and parishioners in service of local communities. There was an expressed desire and commitment to pray for our priests and support them in their ministry. The perceived obstacles to collaboration were also named in discussion and the need of formation of both clergy and laity for such collaborative ministry was underscored.
In the mission of evangelisation, sacramental programs and faith and life groups such as the Legion of Mary were affirmed for their potential. However, the need to reach out to ‘shut-ins,’ that is, those who are housebound, was again highlighted as was the need for creativity to offer activities and events to draw people back into the life of our communities. New initiatives that were suggested included a welcome pack for parishes to engage newcomers, better formation in faith and the practice of evangelisation, fellowship with others outside the context of liturgy and the study of Scripture in small communities of the faithful where intimacy and sharing of the Word can take place.
Thank you to Fr Bob Sheridan and the Blackheath parish council for their tremendous assistance and promotion of the consultation in the weeks preceding, as well as to the parishioners of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop who also took part and shared their passionate concerns and aspirations. It was an opportunity for us to learn more about these local communities and a remarkable consultation to conclude with, providing much hope for the future.
Further updates on our progress will be made available as the work of developing the Pastoral Plan unfolds.
Yours in Christ,