Brisbane Archdiocese booklets: how to make parishes 'zoom along'

Brisbane Archdiocese booklets: how to make parishes 'zoom along'

Michael Gilchrist

A pair of booklets titled Celebrate and Learn have recently come to hand. They are the work of the Offices of Adult Education and Parish Review and Planning within the office of Brisbane Catholic Education. They each carry the general banner of "Evaluation of Ministry and Service" and are the offspring of the Brisbane Archdiocese's Shaping Our Future modernisation and re-structuring blueprint, finalised in 1989.

Each of the above booklets calls for the setting up of parish "task-forces" comprising 3-5 local activists and provides detailed instructions on how they are to evaluate their parish's liturgical and theological up-to-dateness.

While there are a number of criteria among the over 80 listed to which few would object, the dominant flavour is of "everyday relevance" and even political correctness. Nowhere is there mention of Mass attendance levels, Eucharistic adoration, reverence, daily Masses, effective use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or numbers at confession, as indicators of a parish's "success".

Meanwhile, in progressive Brisbane, the Banyo Seminary received not one new recruit for 1997 and Mass attendances continued to fall. But not, it seems, the numbers of bureaucrats, with recent advertisements in the Brisbane Catholic Leader (2 March 1997) calling for applications for an "Executive Secretary/Project Officer to the Archbishop's Taskgroup on Women's Participation in the Church" and for the post of "Administration/Project Officer within the Vicariate of Church Life and Mission." Among requirements for the latter are that he/she have "an understanding of the Mission and Directions of the Archdiocese."

The nature of "Mission and Directions" could be deduced from samples of the 80 plus criteria listed for evaluation by each parish task-force. At the end of each sub-section in the two booklets, the task-force is asked to record its "Assessment" of the parish (and presumably directly or indirectly its priest) as "On the Slide," "In the Pits", "On the Improve" or "Zooming Along."

Brisbane's few remaining 'traditionalist' or 'conservative' parish priests might well find it disconcerting to have local activists put their liturgies and degree of theological correctness under the microscope. No doubt any parish and/or priest meriting the rating "In the Pits" will be earmarked for re-education and/or counselling, so that the entire Archdiocese will eventually "Zoom along" in happy progressive unison.

The Celebrate booklet, which concentrates on liturgy, includes the following litmus tests of a "Zooming Along" parish:

  • The liturgy planning group ensures it is in touch with current liturgical documents and Archdiocesan guidelines.
  • There is a well-constructed, designed and decorated liturgical space for suitable celebrations of the rites of the Church, (e.g., a font for immersion, a eucharistic chapel, seating around the leadership space, a gathering space, etc.)
  • Rituals (using movement, symbols, art, drama, etc) are used appropriately to express the connection between God's Word and our everyday life.
  • The experience of community takes different forms and reflects different parish styles with different groups in the parish, (e.g., women, single adults, young people, people with disabilities, the elderly, etc.)
  • Suitable formation is offered to those entering upon a ministry or service, with suitable support and updating offered throughout their time of involvement.

The here-and-now

  • The liturgy is a key moment for people to articulate and celebrate the issues and concerns of their everyday life, (e.g., transition from school, parenthood, retirement, unemployment, etc.)
  • The liturgy helps people to live out the mission of Christ in the everyday reality of their lives - in home, workplace, neighbourhood, nation and world.
  • The words and symbols of the liturgy are experienced as being intimately related to everyday life and not as being apart from or irrelevant to it.
  • Colloquiums, forums, talks, etc, are arranged on key issues facing the Australian community, e.g., Mabo, the economy, unemployment, etc.
  • The variety of prayer experiences provided in the parish encompasses the diversity of Catholic traditions of spirituality, particularly a spirituality that deals with the reality of the everyday, the here-and-now.

The Learn booklet focuses on how to evaluate a parish's theological uptodateness, as for example:

  • The parish assists the community's search for God's Spirit in the "signs of the times," by keeping abreast in such areas as:

    - the expanding role of the non-ordained in the church and the implications for ministry and mission in that;

    - the search for a contemporary "spirituality" that is set in the reality of the everyday;

    - processes for social analysis that help to identify God's saving action in the world about us.

  • Parishes ensure that they receive regular updates of resources and opportunities available from the various Archdiocesan agencies involved in faith education. (These would include: Institute of Faith Education, Institute of Pastoral Liturgy, Adult Education, Christian Leadership, Resource Centre, Leadership in Pastoral Ministry, Pastoral Council Secretariat, Commission on Ecumenism, Catholic Youth Support Services, etc.)
  • The spirit and practice of discernment is fostered in the parish. People are encouraged to recognise God's presence and abiding love in key moments of their life, even those where God may seem absent.

Meanwhile, the "here-and-now reality" facing Brisbane and other dioceses is that Catholics are leaving the practice of the faith no matter how "relevant" are the liturgies, renewal programs and religion courses.

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