A clarion call to priests: ‘Mission is what the Spirit is asking of the Church’

By Catherine Sheehan

At the recent Clergy Plenary held in northern Tasmania, Archbishop Julian Porteous made a clarion call for priests to shift their focus from being shepherds to being fishermen, stating that a “mission orientation” was what “the Spirit” was “asking of the Church at this time”.

Given the current cultural climate, with practice of the Christian faith in decline, priests could not afford to continue with a ‘business as usual’ approach, Archbishop Julian told priests of the Hobart Archdiocese gathered for the conference from 17 to 21 April at the Tamar Valley Resort in Grindelwald.

“I believe we need to take an attitude of positive response,” he said.

While acknowledging the enormous “dedication and service” of the clergy, Archbishop Julian said priests were now working in “a new paradigm”, which required “a reappraisal of how we go about our ministry”.

“If we have developed skills as pastors—and we have—now we need to develop a new set of skills as, if you like, fishermen.”

He proposed simple pastoral initiatives within parishes involving “a collaborative effort” between priests and parishioners.

“We have to instil in our parishioners an understanding of how to be a missionary disciple.

“Developing a mission orientation is, I believe, what the Spirit is asking of the Church at this time.”

Continuing the theme of mission, Fr Greg Bellamy addressed the Plenary about his experience as Parish Priest at St Mary and St Joseph’s Parish in Orange in rural NSW.

“Any parish can be missionary,” Fr Bellamy said. “You don’t have to have lots and lots of staff and lots of money. You really just need a small group of people who are willing to work together with the priest to have a go at being missionary.”

Fr Greg Bellamy addressed the Plenary about his experience as Parish Priest. Photo: Supplied

Fr Bellamy said the initial inspiration behind his shift in focus was Fr James Mallon’s book, The Divine Renovation, which provided a set of principles for creating a mission focused parish.

As a result, Fr Bellamy put in place simple initiatives such as having a parishioner in the foyer before each Mass to welcome people.

Parishioners were also encouraged to share their personal faith stories with others, and the Alpha program had been highly successful for those seeking answers to their questions about Christianity.

“We’ve been slowly shifting that culture and making it more of an outward-looking culture and really prioritising… ministries that are focused on new people, focused on people that may not be Church insiders, so to speak.”

The parish had become “a more friendly place”, he said, with new parishioners entering the fold who previously had no contact with the Church.

“We can see people coming alive and being enthusiastic. It may not be vast numbers of people, but the people who are changing are very much alive in the Holy Spirit, are outgoing, have an impulse to mission and evangelisation, and they act like leaven in the parish.”

Cathy Kennedy, spoke of her experience working as Evangelisation Coordinator at St Declan’s Parish in Penshurst NSW, alongside Parish Priest Fr Chris Ryan MGL.

Working as a team with the Parish Priest was vital she said.

“We work as a team with Fr Chris. We’re not a bunch of doers where we meet and then he gives us a bunch of tasks. We actually help him lead. Together, we pray and discern the best way to go.”

Mrs Kennedy said three key elements to creating a missionary parish were the Alpha program for those new to the faith, raising up good leadership in the parish, and harnessing the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Really trusting our parish in every way, in prayer, to the action of the Holy Spirit, trying to discern what he’s doing and work with him for this amazing vision he has.”

The fruits from this shift of culture had been enormous at St Declan’s, she said.

“We’re seeing more and more transformed lives… They’re experiencing God’s presence, because people are working in their giftedness, and it’s according to the grace that God has given them.

“It’s quite an amazing thing.”

Tags: Archdiocese, News, Vocations