The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has organised a national conference on the new evangelisation. The goal is to get a whole of leaders together and focus on how the parish can evangelise.
This focus on the parish is very good for me personally. I’ve long been dubious of the relevance of parishes. My adult faith was nurtured through chaplaincies, youth groups, and new movements. The parish didn’t play a part at all. Apart from that, people are much more mobile now and geography no longer defines community. As the Church’s resources diminish, I’ve wondered if we shouldn’t focus our energies on new apostolates, organise ourselves in new ways, and dispense with the parish model.
The Holy Father thinks otherwise:
The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.
Evangelii Gaudium, 28.
So in personal terms, Pope Francis has issued a challenge, and this conference gives me the means to respond.
Today’s keynote speakers were Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran, co-authors of Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter. The book relates the authors’ successes and failures in rejuvenating their modest parish in Maryland. It’s great reading, and I’ll review it in depth some time.
I number among the 44 delegates from the Ballarat diocese — a cohort which constitutes 9 per cent of the total conference attendance of more than 500 people. This is a huge investment of people, time and money from a comparatively small diocese.
Conferences like this generate a great deal of practical wisdom and enthusiasm, but it can quickly dissipate when participants reinsert themselves back into the daily grind. The fact that Ballarat has sent so many people will hopefully mitigate that pattern. I have high hopes that we can return home, share what we have learnt, and effectively apply it. With God’s help, parishes all over the diocese will be blessed and renewed.
I hope and I pray.
About 30 years ago I remember asking a question of some church leaders about the relevance of parish in a world where geographical boundaries and technology meant that the typical old view of parish may no longer be as relevant as it might have been in the 50s. I got a lecture on the importance and centrality of the Eucharist. I hope today’s leaders can see that the two are not by necessity the same thing and that, as Francis says, the word parish can have a dynamic and flexible meaning.