In August 2014 bishops, clergy, religious and lay people came to Chatswood from all parts of Australia and beyond to grapple with the question of how to implement the vision of Pope Francis at a parish level. He wants us to be missionary disciples actively engaged with those on the fringes of church life. That is a far cry from the ‘business as usual’ ‘build it and they will come’ way that most of our parishes operate. Finding the stepping stones to get parishes from where they are to where they are called to be is the challenge facing us. At the Proclaim 2014 Conference participants heard from those who are a few stepping stones ahead on the way, and came away inspired and encouraged.
But only a few hundred people were able to attend the full three days of the conference, and not everyone has the patience to watch all the video clips and listen to all the podcasts on the conference website. However time-poor people can dip into a few pages of Conference notes from an e-book and find at least one good idea to chew on, and then come back to find another good idea when the next 5 minutes of unallocated time comes along.
The first key note speech was about how to make church matter and about how to stop using your energy on projects that don’t bring people closer to God.
The workshop on disability and inclusion might sound boring, but it had the most profound effect and has lingered most in the memory.
The workshop on the essential subject matter for preaching challenged us to start doing what St Paul found so effective – preaching a crucified Christ.
The workshop that shared wisdom on running the Christian initiation for adults program (RCIA) and how to keep newly initiated Christians engaged with the parish afterwards was excellent.
The second key note speech which unpacked data from the National Church Life Survey and explained the implications was eye-opening. Having an idea about the gender, age, and marital status of the person most statistically likely to consider taking God seriously is powerful stuff. Discovering that in any parish there is a constant percentage of members who could become gifted evangelists with a little training is cause for both celebration and action plans.
The ecumenical panel about what is, and is not, working in other churches was a heart-warming reminder that we all face similar challenges and have a lot to learn from each other.
The workshop on leadership, taking Pope Francis as a model, and seeing what we could learn from him showed us the impact of holiness and of ministry that is not ‘at a distance’.
The workshop on strengthening parish life through supporting the marriages of its members was good. Providing an example of a ministry to married couples, that is done on a monthly basis. Frequently spouses serve in different ministries, which can place pressure on marriages. This ministry, as the presenters said, ‘It is the one thing we do as a couple, which enables us to serve as a couple.’
The third keynote speech was about how to move members from consumers to contributors, and about how to make it easier for them to take that step.
If you are convinced that the definition of insanity (doing the same things over and over again and expecting better results) applies to parish life, then you are convinced that we have to do something different.
‘What should we do differently?’ Is an urgent question, because unless we start doing things differently now, we may not have a parish at all when our members in their 70s, 80s and 90s have attained their eternal reward. If you are seeking answers to that question, then ‘Notes from Proclaim 2014’ is for you.
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When the Apostles went out fishing, they went with boats, with nets, and they worked together. God provided the fish. Then He told them that they will now catch men. I firmly believe that God wants to send our parishes new members, but frequently our nets are in bad repair and our teamwork is poor. So the new members are not sent, or they come and we quickly lose them before we even noticed they were there. The Proclaim 2014 Conference shone a bright light upon where the holes in our nets are, and provided repair plans. Parishes that commit themselves to fixing those holes will build teamwork. Then the new members will come. The times are too urgent to not makes these Conference notes available to a wider audience.
An excerpt from the notes on the ecumenical panel; this segment given by Rev Edward Vaughan.
The Anglican parish of Darlinghurst is a very complex place. It is full of young secular people living alternative lifestyles, and has a large gay population. The most common response to Gospel overtures is indifference rather than hostility.
Before starting anything new in the parish, Ed led his parish through a discernment process and through times of waiting on God for direction. It took a whole year of listening not only to in the pews but also those not in the pews. Several prayer meetings were held where people were asked to bring their phones. After prayers they were sent off to various destinations around the parish. On the way they walked in silence and recorded their observations with the camera and sound recording functions of their phones. The idea was to listen to all the words being spoken, to what they heard, saw and smelt as they went around parts of the parish. Then they returned and reported what they had discovered.
From this they determined that God was calling them as a parish to be ‘a people of freedom and a presence of blessing’. One initiative that emerged from this time of discernment was a café for street people manned by parish volunteers. The café provides a safe place for street people and others to come, and a place to start conversations and to make real connections with them. The parish has also found the Alpha programme very helpful in their context.
Catherine has been a contributor to parish life since her late teens. That covers city, regional and rural parishes, and over the years just about any lay ministry you can think of. She has been blogging on religious matters since late 2011, has 11 years of home schooling under her belt, and a desire to be like that good scribe who shares from his storehouse of knowledge things both new and old.
Despite all that, the Proclaim 2014 Conference was a watershed experience. Before the Conference her thoughts harboured a lingering low level anger towards the missing generations that should have been sharing the ministry load. During the Conference the ugly realisation hit that many of those missing generations weren’t there because she had failed completely to reach out to them. Much of the problem wasn’t their fault, but hers. She knows that only when this realisation dawns for others will the widespread needed changes begin, and all the prayers for revival, renewal and conversion start to be answered.
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