By Fr Paul Marshall EV, Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation and Pastoral Planning, Catholic Outlook, November 2013
The Year of Faith has followed the Year of Grace and both these seasons are now drawing to a close. However, grace and faith are ongoing gifts: grace is about God reaching down to us; faith is about us reaching out for God.
The landscape of faith has changed in Australia and we cannot assume that faith is picked up in our time and culture as it may have been 30 or 40 years ago.
As a member of the Pastoral Planning Team for the Diocese over the past three years, I have been privileged to venture into many parishes, agencies and conversations with individuals and groups from Rydalmere to the Blue Mountains.
I have learned that there are a myriad of ways of building faith in parish communities. Here are a few dimensions of vibrant parishes that come to mind for me as a priest.
Welcome and hospitality
Do we notice the newcomer? Are we sensitive to parishioners who are having difficulties? Do we notice who is not at Mass and follow up with them?
Do we invite families on the margins of our faith to engage with parish social events or activities?
In 2012, the Parramatta Institute for Mission called together representatives from parishes across the Diocese to skill people in developing strategies to identify newcomers and invite participation.
It is great to see parishes realising the need to go beyond the cup of tea and to provide welcome packs or kits, renewing the practice of home visitation to newcomers, engaging with people’s stories of life, faith and Church, and follow-up processes to keep newcomers connected to parish life.
Collaboration of gifts
In May this year, Sherry Weddell from the Siena Institute spoke to a gathering of our Parramatta clergy, reminding us of the need for parishes to be places where spiritual seekers can feel ‘at home’ wrestling with their faith questions.
Both clergy and people need to grow through stages of discipleship. Youth bring a vitality of faith; elders a wisdom of faith. There are a multitude of gifts in all people across all ages and cultures.
As clergy and leaders we need to appreciate the gifts of each person, to develop the gifts of each person and call these gifts into ministry.
Not all priests may have the gift of ‘calling out’ and coordinating people’s gifts, but perhaps there is a leader in your parish who can be that animator.
As the People of God – both clergy and parishioners – we need to recognise and draw on the practical competencies of our parishioners.
Parish pastoral councils
The proper role of parish pastoral councils, as canon law describes it, is to plan for the future of the community with the present reality in mind. That is, parish pastoral councils are for pastoral planning and future thinking, and not the mere maintenance of existing services in the parish.
In August this year questionnaires were sent to all parish councils across our Diocese inviting them to reflect more deeply on their current pastoral reality. Many parishes have taken the lead in using this questionnaire as a beginning point for future pastoral planning in their parish.
It is hoped that many of our other communities would see these councils as bodies where a concrete vision for the parish is discerned and that call all of our people into mission.
As the plan is launched in 2014 we hope that these pastoral councils will experience new life and renewed focus with our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, Faith in Our Future, as a resource for their best thinking and pastoral practice.
As we said at the outset, the landscape of faith has changed and we cannot assume that faith is picked up in our time and culture as it may have been years ago.
Some of the ideas above may assist in rekindling and reawakening our faith and discipleship, including our efforts to reach out to those who feel estranged from our Church or overlooked within it.
As Pope John Paul II proclaimed in Baltimore in 1998: “The parish will necessarily be the centre of the new evangelisation, and thus parish life must be renewed in all its dimensions.”