FROM THIS weekend Go Make Disciples, the new Archdiocesan-wide mission plan for Sydney, is off and running. Its purpose? No less than to renew and focus the Church’s energy towards its timeless mission – announcing Jesus Christ to the world.
The Plan was launched by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP on 12 December, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who together with St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, has been chosen as a patroness of the Plan.
Go Make Disciples is the most far-reaching attempt to harness the resources of the Church within Australia in the service of the new evangelisation called for by all the modern popes since Pope St Paul VI. It represents the personal vision of Archbishop Fisher for the future of the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Go Make Disciples is the most far-reaching attempt to harness the resources of the Church within Australia in the service of the new evangelisation called for by all the modern popes since Pope St Paul VI.
It is based on an exhaustive review of everything – and everyone – that makes up the Archdiocese of Sydney and offers numerous strategies and ideas for parishes to transform themselves into living, thriving centres of faith reaching out to wider Australia.
“Friends, today, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelisation, I am officially launching our new Archdiocesan Mission Plan, Go Make Disciples,” Archbishop Fisher said in a special video released to promote the launch.
He described the Plan, years in the preparation, as “an invitation to the people of Sydney to contemplate Jesus again and deepen our personal relationship with Him and to ask how we as communities can live His life and mission more fully.
“It is a practical resource for parishes, with the majority of its content focused on strategies and actions that parishes and chaplaincies can implement to strengthen five foundations for parish renewal (evangelisation, leadership, community, formation and worship),” the Archbishop said.
Go Make Disciples has been accorded a high priority in the life of the Archdiocese and has been given its own dedicated website.
However it really began six years ago on the night of Archbishop Anthony Fisher’s installation as the ninth Archbishop of Sydney on 12 November 2014.
Several years in the making
“My hope,” he told a packed cathedral that evening, “is for a Church in which the Gospel is preached with joy, the wisdom of our tradition mined with fidelity, the sacraments celebrated with dignity and welcome, and the seminaries, convents and youth groups teeming with new life; a Church in which our parishes, chaplaincies and educational institutions are true centres of the new evangelisation, our laity theologically literate and spiritually well-formed, our outreach to the needy effective and growing, and God glorified above all.
“That,” he added, “will depend hugely on three factors: our clergy and religious; our families; and our young people.”
For the individual chosen to oversee the formulation of Go Make Disciples and to help translate Archbishop Fisher’s vision into reality – Daniel Ang – celebrating the deep faith and good works that are already present and active in our parishes and other Eucharistic communities, and at the same time hearing the Gospel’s call to ongoing conversion and constant spiritual renewal is what the new plan is all about.
Facing realities, setting a new course
And it is precisely its grounding in the realities faced by the Church in Sydney in 2020, and the extensive consultation and research conducted over the past years, that is one of its key strengths, said Mr Ang, the Director of the Archdiocese’s new Centre for Evangelisation.
In essence, Go Make Disciples provides both a birds-eye view – a sort-of spiritual and temporal audit of the whole archdiocese – and an extensive suite of strategies, measures and ideas to help parishes live the mission of Jesus with ever more vitality and intentionality, and to reach out to a world rapidly abandoning any meaningful belief in God.
“You’ll find resources for the spiritual renewal of our parishes and other Eucharistic communities [such as migrant communities and ecclesial movements] and also find a theological and practical framework for thinking through how our structures might better match out mission,” Mr Ang told The Catholic Weekly in the lead up to this weekend’s launch.
Making best use of resources
In an archdiocese that is constantly changing together with the city in which it is situated, this includes thinking about how our resources and personnel might better serve the Gospel in this change of era.
“All these gifts serve the increasing fidelity of all our people to the life and the mission of Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century,” he said.
For instance, he said, within Go Make Disciples’ readers will find practical strategies and actions that parishes can take up to renew their life around five central foundations that have emerged as central to a missionary culture that calls and forms disciples. These are evangelisation, leadership, community, formation and worship.
‘A spiritual and temporal audit’ of the whole Archdiocese
Those foundations emerged out of the ‘Parish 2020’ process that drilled down as far as possible to assess who and what makes up the Church in Sydney.
These five foundations of the Church’s mission identified in Go Make Disciples also come from a reading of the life of Jesus in the New Testament, as well as the early Christian community recorded in the 28 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, and from research into best practice and parish renewal in Australia and overseas, he said.
For example, one suggestion in the plan is for parishes to begin sifting through how they might do ‘more with less’, to chart an intentional pathway of discipleship in their own community.
Go Make Disciples is – broadly – based on the life of Jesus, the Acts of the Apostles and extensive research into best practice
Forming true disciples
“One of the critical issues in our parishes is how we can better help people grow and be formed in their faith, especially if they have not been in close contact with the Gospel or the Church for some time,” Mr Ang said. “And there are starting points within the plan to – if you like – ‘open the door’ to those less connected to the local parish, to then extend welcome to them and be surrounded by community – and then have opportunities to discuss and be formed in the heart of the Gospel, the kerygma or that ‘Great Story of Jesus’ that makes us who we are”
Go Make Disciples is not designed to be imposed upon parishes. Rather, it’s a focusing of vision and a set of resources that parishes can use as they see fit according to their own situation and priorities for evangelisation, he said.
“The plan doesn’t pretend that parishes are at the beginning [of evangelisation],” he told The Catholic Weekly.
Flexible responses, flexible strategies
“They are already ‘on the way’ and so the plan is designed for adaptability and the flexibility of [it] is that it can be engaged by any community at any stage of their life cycle.
“It can be used by a parish team, or a parish pastoral council, or a music ministry group to grow their particular priorities of mission.
“We’re inviting every parish to pick it up or go online, have a read of Go Make Disciples and choose two or three things which they think they could most easily build upon – or,” he added, “challenges that they could most easily address.
Adaptable to every parish’s unique circumstances
“I pray and hope that through a reading of the plan that people will be drawn not only more deeply into the life of Jesus but also into the ways of living that relationship of faith personally as well as Eucharistic communities of disciples.”
While the archdiocese wants every community to thrive, it may be that some parishes lack the participation, temporal resources for mission, and/or the volunteers or personnel to be able to undertake mission in the way that they traditionally have.
“But these challenges do not mean that such parishes are not valuable communities or that they don’t have a future,” he said. “It may simply mean that that future looks different to what has been in the past.
It’s not just about structure
For example, where a parish’s viability could be uncertain because of changing demographics or declining financial resources, “then we would be looking to support them to find ways that they can address these issues and plan for growth and pastoral life.
“This could involve a life in partnership with another community, or it might mean becoming a part of another community. There’ll be different ways for parishes to thrive, to continue to offer worship to a local community, all depending on their local circumstances.
However, he said, “we understand that parishes don’t thrive merely by structural renewal.
Spiritual renewal as well
“Even those communities that might enter into new configurations, they will also need to undertake spiritual renewal, because it is only that spiritual renewal of persons that leads to the vitality of the whole Church – not simply temporal resources and certainly not bureaucracy.
The plan will continue to be explored in greater detail from the New Year in parishes, deaneries and regional and clergy conferences.
From April 2021 onwards, ‘Parishes for Mission’ days will seek to bring parishes together to unpack and explore more deeply the ways they can focus on evangelisation and build up the life and discipleship of their communities.
Drawing disciples closer to Jesus
So what does he want the average Catholic to say to themselves as a result of the plan?
“Ultimately, I want them to be drawn deeper into the life and mission of Jesus Christ and what he’s calling them to be for the Church – and for the world, a world that needs our parishes and our communities because it needs the Gospel” he said.
“I want it to be encouragement for those working so hard at the coalface of the Church in our parish and migrant communities in the practice of their faith and ministry, and for the Church in Sydney to reassert its service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ here in this city.”