Daniel Ang: Opportunities amid the crisis

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We should decide now how we want our parishes to look in the ‘next normal’. PHOTO: Unsplash

Pandemic hit the Church but also spurred new initiatives

More than one year since the global pandemic took hold it is clear that the disruption and uncertainty it has wrought has had a significant impact on Catholic parishes.

The pace of change has demanded continual adaption, creativity and choices on the part of clergy and communities. What should we do? How should we best respond? How do we reach our people? How will we recover our pastoral life? Will they return? These questions linger as we continue to journey in unfamiliar terrain.

“The sense of urgency created by the pandemic has opened up fresh approaches to pastoral life”

There is no doubt the pandemic has placed a heavy burden on many communities as church attendance has fluctuated with various restrictions on worship, while facilities have demanded increased cleaning and maintenance, collections have varied as face-to-face contact and giving have wavered, and resources and plans have had to be redirected.

This is not to say there have been no silver linings in this experience.

The sense of urgency created by the pandemic has opened up fresh approaches to pastoral life, seen perhaps most clearly online where groups have gathered for prayer and nurtured an ongoing sense of belonging and interpersonal connection.

Kindness cupboard shows a lot of heart

Parish initiatives of practical outreach have also emerged to the poor in circumstance, the isolated and those who are anxious.

One of the invitations of the pandemic is to normalise mission in our communities, an outward focus that is not a temporary solution to a temporary problem but is, in fact, essential to the vitality and future of our parishes.

Times change, but the Gospel remains the same call to grow

The story of the Church has always been that of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ into new territories, being a community of faith onto which others are grafted and grow as disciples of Jesus. In this sense, the future of our parishes will depend on those who currently do not believe and those who have not yet been reached.

Some have certainly fallen away from regular worship as the pandemic has taken hold. With no assurance that parish participation will rebound to levels that prevailed before the crisis, it is more important than ever that we take decisions now about what we want our parishes to look like in the ‘next normal’.

For those parishes that were already experiencing decline prior to the pandemic, a trend that COVID-19 has only accelerated, a mere return to life and customary arrangements before the crisis seems incongruous. With limited resources, there may be ministries or activities that parishes have suspended during the pandemic that may no longer serve the mission of their communities into the future and call to be relinquished.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is livestreamed on Facebook. PHOTO: CNS, Katie Rutter

Meanwhile, there will be new practices of formation and evangelisation, communication and skills acquired through this time that parishes may now choose to embed as part of their new culture, as part of ‘the way we now do things around here’.

We know that one of the key factors that separates communities that are resilient and flourish during and after a crisis from those that succumb to their effects is having the desire and vision, the boldness and the resources to act on the ‘writing on the wall’.

The outpouring of extraordinary creative power, commitment and passion from many of our clergy and parishes is precisely the kind of adaptive spirit needed, a capacity for change and renewal that is at the heart of the Catholic tradition and that enables the encounter with Christ in every age.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s Lenten Companion, ‘Receive the Grace to Go Make Disciples’ is available online as well as an online Lenten group.

So while the pandemic continues to cause disruption in the life of local communities, it also presents now a promising opportunity for pastors and parishioners to discern how the pastoral life, the ministries and regular activities of their communities can be “suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (Evangelii Gaudium 27).

Providentially, our new Archdiocesan Mission Plan, Go Make Disciples, provides a resource and tools for this discernment in our local parishes, so they can continue to bear the fruit of disciples for generations to come. This starts by tilling and cultivating the soil of our parish cultures for mission and by the new paths and priorities that are sown today.

For support in applying the insight of Go Make Disciples in your local parish, contact our Parish Renewal Team at [email protected] or (02) 9390 5330.

Daniel Ang is the Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation.

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