Thinking and imagining other models of mission

05/06/2015

Originally published in Catholic Outlook June 2015 

From the Diocesan Administrator, Very Rev Peter G Williams

Dear Brothers and Sisters, In the Sydney Morning Herald recently there was another article on the proposed development of a second airport at Badgerys Creek (‘Design for Badgerys Creek Airport in the works’, 1 May 2015).

Whilst I know that there are many views on the subject of a second airport for Sydney, and whether it is desirable for it to be located in Western Sydney, it would seem that the Federal Government has endorsed the chosen site and concept plans are now well underway.

Interestingly, the location of the airport marks the boundary between the Diocese of Parramatta, the Diocese of Wollongong and the Archdiocese of Sydney. I am told that the main runway will be in our Diocese!

Already, officials from all three dioceses have been in discussion about what the implications will be in terms of development associated with the airport, and what that might mean in the provision of parishes and schools to accommodate what is expected to be a surge in population around this major transport hub.

Thinking about Badgerys Creek has also raised other questions about the future and how we as a local Church might respond to the challenges of greater growth and more people moving to the West.

Already we know that the Diocese of Parramatta is the fifth-biggest Catholic diocese in the country and is also one of the fastest growing. In the relatively short history of our Diocese we have responded to new developments by being active in the purchase of land in order to ensure that we can provide parish churches and schools to respond to the needs of the Catholic population.

Five parishes have been erected since the Diocese came into existence in 1986. To that end we continue to be very industrious and only this past month our newest church, Our Lady of the Angels at Rouse Hill, was dedicated by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.

But I wonder whether we need to start thinking and imagining other models of mission as we look to the future. Parishes and schools have traditionally been our ‘core business’ models in a new community, but given that we can identify that our society is becoming increasingly diverse in multicultural and multi-faith expression, are there other ways that we should or could be present in the community as a way of advancing the mission to proclaim the Gospel?

Over many decades there has been much discussion about whether the parish model (whose origins lie in the early history of the Church) is best suited to cater to the needs of Catholic people. The answer I think is that it is the preferred structure, not because of its longevity but, as we have seen in Rouse Hill, a committed and vibrant community of Catholic people can achieve great things.

It is not just the building and completion of a church, but the community that occupies it that continues the work of witness and mission to that part of our Diocese.

Worship is at the heart of Christian life, so there is no suggestion that we should abandon the construction of places for people to gather for the Eucharist and form parish communities. But might those places of worship be integrated into other aspects of our mission? Could we conceive of a parish that might also have as its centre a significant outreach through CatholicCare Social Services, or perhaps a post-school training facility, or an agency that focuses on faith and spiritual education like the Institute for Mission, or a Catholic health clinic?

Recently, our Catholic Education Office has been exploring whether in the future a school in the CBD of Parramatta might be an appropriate development to respond to what is expected to be a huge increase in the population of the city.

But it is being suggested that it not be a school that is occupied for only several hours a day. Might not other Catholic agencies and organisations also have a presence and operate in such a place?

It is clear that the world in which we live is changing rapidly and it is hard to imagine what Parramatta, indeed any part of Australia, will look like in another 50 years.

But if the mission of the Church is to be taken seriously, we do need to start thinking beyond just the next five or 10 years, and we need to start thinking in diverse ways and perhaps as they say ‘outside the box’ in the ways we have responded in the past to growth.

We can be certain that there will be others who are already thinking and planning for 50 years from now.

Whilst our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, Faith in Our Future, has certainly set outcomes and goals for us over the next five years, we need to focus not only on those, but to be strategic in our forward planning as a Diocese. It is a discussion well worth having in every parish, agency and organisation in the Diocese.

With my prayers,

Very Rev Peter G Williams
Diocesan Administrator
Catholic Diocese of Parramatta

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