Two years of thinking, gathering, debating, working within the tyranny of consensus, seeing ideas dissolve and new ones emerge, rubbing shoulders with priests and religious, and above all, hoping and praying, have come to an end. Whatever can be said of Synod 2003 (1-4 May) at this point, one thing is for certain - it's been exhausting!
Decentralised deliberation of Church directions through synod is a vision of Vatican II still unfolding. Pope John Paul II has boldly engaged it. Archbishop Bathersby has shown extraordinary faith in the movement of the Holy Spirit, extending the gift of synod to a largely lay delegation.
With the insight of Fr Richard John Neuhaus' portrait of the American Synod 1997, Appointment in Rome, in the background, I'm struck by the flawless operation by Brisbane's Office of the Synod, and in the end, the emergence of some fresh wheat among expected chaff.
All outcomes and implementations of the seven action proposals developed during the consultation and preparation phases were refined and carried in clear majorities (85%-99%).
On a fresh note, for instance, is "Effective Communication" carrying the imperative of re-evangelisation - a signature theme of the Pope and the episcopal synods of the 90s. The Synod identified a number of ways in which Jesus Christ and the voice of the Church should be taken to the outside world, despite everything. Among these is a pro-active presence in the media through a regular newspaper commentary by the Archbishop, flanked by a public advisory group.
Another proposal is "Building Communities of Faith", which seeks archdiocesan facilitation of small group formation, stronger parish and school connection, lay pastoral leadership, and promotion of priesthood, diaconate and religious life. In this proposal, too, are the highest priority outcomes chosen by the Synod, namely "welcoming, vibrant and inclusive liturgies" and "inclusive communities".
Such calls are hardly new and indicate, for me at any rate, a latent anthropocentricism which sits at odds with what I think people inside and outside the Church yearn for, namely holiness and transcendence. This is at least alluded to in calls for sanctity through church environments and worship in "Celebrating Liturgy".
It was evident after the Synod's opening Mass, where the celebration and music drew praise of ethereal heights. Calls for doctrinal change, however, need to be tempered by admissions implied in "Education in Faith". During the consultation phase of the Synod, the loudest message was "we need to be educated".
In the end, the Synod vindicated the most repeated of Archbishop Bathersby's convictions - young people as the important future and present of the Church. Asked to nominate its priorities, the Synod chose mainly high-school students to speak to the assembly. Their exuberance, affirming a personal relationship with Jesus and living out His vision in our lives, will for years be seen as a paradoxical sign of the Holy Spirit's presence in a Brisbane burdened by an exodus the faithful.