Faith in Our Future: An Interim Report, May 2012
The core objective of the consultation phase of “Faith in Our Future” is to invite responses from Catholics in the Diocese of Parramatta to five pastoral priorities: family life, youth, ethnic diversity, support of lay and priestly vocations, and outreach or the mission of a new evangelisation. It is these priorities that will focus and shape the life, ministries and structures of the Diocese in the next five years and beyond.
Around 700 people have participated in the eight parish consultation sessions to date. Of these approximately 54% were women and 46% were men. There have been 65 online submissions via the diocesan pastoral planning website and 370 subscriptions to the “Faith in Our Future” blog and news service. The website attracts an average of 300 visitors per week.
There was a high degree of consistency in the priority selected by participants thus far, with “family life” being the most popular area of concentration with “youth” the second most popular priority of discussion overall.
An initial review of the qualitative data gathered at the parish consultation sessions and online submissions has revealed the following perceptions of the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the Parramatta Diocese:
Areas of strength identified
Provision and support of youth activities, especially World Youth Days
The Catholic school system
Strong participation in sacramental programs
The affirmation of family life as valuable
The availability of faith formation opportunities for laity
The continuing commitment to RCIA
Strong ministry of SRE catechists in the state school system
The charitable works of CatholicCare and St Vincent de Paul
Areas of weakness identified
Difficulty in retaining young people’s engagement with the Church, particularly liturgy
Weak connections with families post-baptism
Lack of consistency in welcoming newcomers to parish communities
Weak faith connections between schools and parishes
Poor faith engagement with parents through schools
Lack of knowledge and understanding of various ethnic cultures within the Diocese
Scarcity of mothers’ groups and support for parents with children under school age
The challenge of inviting new people into ministry and the renewal of ministries
Lack of knowledge in the area of Scripture and other areas of Catholic faith
Lack of resources to support participation of families in Church life
The need to accentuate the positive aspects of our Church and parishes
Areas of opportunity identified
To establish ongoing connections and communication with families in the parish
To provide better support for new and established married couples
To promote and communicate more effectively about existing and emerging groups, programs and services already on offer throughout the Diocese
To cultivate prayer experiences and community outside the context of Mass
To improve the quality of liturgies to foster engagement
To increase the study of Scripture and familiarity with the Catholic tradition, including methods and styles of prayer
To provide good and welcome ‘entry level’ resources and experiences for the ‘unchurched’ or enquiring
To share liturgies, programs and resources across parishes where appropriate (e.g. youth Masses, resources and personnel)
To provide formation for lay men and women in evangelisation (e.g. courses and retreats).
A RESPONSE FROM THE PASTORAL PLANNING TEAM
The responses from the first series of consultations and the initial online submissions tended to focus on challenges and opportunities at the three levels of parish, school and family life. These were consistently named as at central loci for the faith formation and personal growth of young people in particular.
In the area of youth there was overall satisfaction with diocesan initiatives and events made available to young people, however there was a concern that the engagement of youth at a parish level and from schools was not equally strong or enthusiastic. The quality of liturgy, including homilies, and opportunities for active ministries of service in parish life were highlighted as influential in youth engagement with parish communities.
Formation for Catholic adults in the areas of Scripture and in evangelisation were affirmed as important undertakings, as was the need to encourage meaningful and rich experiences of personal and communal prayer.
Participation beyond the liturgy, including social activities such as mothers’ groups, were emphasised by respondents as contributing toward a living sense of community, an experience of belonging and fostering the connection between faith and life. Such initiatives appear, indeed, to be vital in creating intentional parishes with a sense of unity, an experience which may be more acute for parish core ministers but not necessarily shared by other parish attenders. Furthermore, social events and gatherings beyond the liturgy were seen as opportunities to reconnect with non-practising or estranged Catholics.
Another area of concentration was the importance of effective communication between diocesan agencies, parishes and schools with the purpose of making available information about present programs, pastoral services and events available to individuals, groups and families across these settings.
Respondents specified as well the need for good structures and consistency across and within parishes to identify and connect on an ongoing basis with newcomers and people encountering the Church at significant moments in their life e.g. baptisms and marriages.
Such feedback provides the Pastoral Planning team with a strong starting point as we discern and develop recommendations toward our Diocesan Pastoral Plan.
A RESPONSE FROM BISHOP ANTHONY
“Isn’t this pastoral planning thing really about declining vocations and closing parishes?” – I’ve been asked on a few occasions. Absolutely not! Even if we had five times as many priests we’d have to ask ourselves the sorts of questions we are asking about the best ways of supporting our families, involving our young people, celebrating our ethnic diversity, supporting lay and priestly vocations, reaching out to people and reconnecting with the ‘missing’ Catholics. If one thing that comes out of our process is a recommendation that there be some rearrangement of some parish boundaries and some reallocation of clergy so as to serve people better fine: but serving God and our people is what comes first, and that might very well mean more parishes and more clergy and more lay people in ministry, not fewer. I am convinced that this Diocese has so much going for it that we should be planning for more and for better, and embracing our future with great optimism.
My thanks to all of you who have taken part in the formal and informal consultations for Faith in Our Future, our Diocesan Pastoral Planning exercise, so far. It has been very heartening that so many have already been involved. The feedback on the sessions themselves has been very positive and lots of good ideas are emerging. At the session I attended myself, at St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall, I was very impressed by how engaged people were, their love and sense of responsibility for the Church, and their enthusiasm to be part of its future. This first report back to us about some of the emerging themes suggests we’ll have plenty to think about and act upon. I have every confidence that in this year of grace and faith the Holy Spirit will guide our Diocese to respond well to current challenges and opportunities and plan well for its future.
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