Pastoral Letter - Pentecost 2014 - page two
Where we are now….
Five years ago, when I became Bishop, I travelled around the Diocese for seven regional meetings, to begin dialogue with the faithful as we listened for God’s voice in our current situation.
One lesson we learnt from these meetings was that there were three groups who did not come in large numbers: indigenous Catholics, young people and young families. It seemed clear to me that these groups were where our priorities of mission lie.
This dialogue has continued with the Diocesan Assembly process begun in 2012, with more regional consultations last year, a great gathering at Pentecost and the establishment of an Assembly Council.
We have identified three more themes: Hearing and Proclaiming the Word of God; Worshipping God in Prayer and Sacrament; and Building a Community of Love and Service.
When these themes were announced, some people asked: What about our Catholic schools? The simple answer is that the schools of the Diocese are part of our ministry in all six areas. Indeed, as the largest numerical work of our local Catholic church, the schools have to be a vital part of the response to all these pastoral imperatives.
Accompanying this letter is a statistical snapshot of the Diocese of Bathurst in 2014. I invite you to read it and reflect on what it tells us about our situation today. Of course, a few statistics cannot give the whole picture, but they can provide a starting point for deeper enquiry.
For example, we can see that enrolments in our schools are growing, but rates of attendance at Sunday Mass are in decline. We can see that there are big differences in numbers between the smallest and largest parishes and schools. We can see that our financial resources are under strain, especially for supporting the priests we have and educating those who will take their place.
Where we are going….
In my 2012 Letter “Rebuild My Church”, I invited the Catholics of our Diocese to begin discussing and imagining a Pastoral Plan that would give a framework for organising our mission in the years ahead. This has been carried along in the Diocesan Assembly process, perhaps more slowly than some of us had hoped, but carried on all the same.
We have already stated the pastoral aspirations of our six great themes of Word, Sacrament, Service, Family, Aboriginals and Youth. Now we must make practical plans to implement them.
Last month, the Priests of the Diocese and the Assembly Council spent a day focussing on how to develop such a plan, building on what has already begun. With this Pastoral Letter, I want to reaffirm our commitment to this work and clarify what we seek to achieve.
The first step, already being taken, is the setting up of Word and Faith groups in every parish. In more than half the parishes, we have now begun these simple meetings to bring people into contact with the nourishment that only the Word of God can provide. This is basic and essential if we are to grasp the mission that a pastoral plan is devised to serve.
These groups are doorways to the Spirit “who comes to help us in our weakness.”
The next step will be to ask each parish to consider its mission and the human and material resources that requires. How does it participate in the shared mission of our Diocese and the wider Church: and how do we share our resources?
These questions will lead to more specific questions about parish boundaries, the deployment of priests, the operation of schools and, above all, to each person’s assessment of his or her own responsibilities.
“The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness.” No pastoral plan can predict the surprises and the generosity of God. No plan should cause us to lower our hopes in what God can do.
But, like sailors awaiting the wind which blows where it will, we must repair and ready our sails to be filled with the gentle breeze or the mighty wind that is the Spirit who propels the little boat that is our Church.
+ Michael McKenna
Bishop of Bathurst