It was a day to say thank you and to support the many faithful souls who support the life of the church at the grassroots—the parish staff of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.
On 8 and 9 November, the Parish Renewal Team of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation hosted their very first retreat day for parish staff at the new premises of St Martha’s, Leichhardt.
Employees and volunteers from more than 20 parishes took up the opportunity to retreat from their busy lives and reset with a day of prayer, reflection, and time to connect with other parish staff.
“We wanted our valued parish staff to have an opportunity to retreat—to really step back from the tasks and responsibilities of their daily work, and to be able to take some quiet time to nourish their relationship with Jesus,” said organiser Helen Wagner.
“We know how hard they work with the many demands of a parish, so this was their time to receive, and to have an encounter with God.
They are the face of the Catholic Church and today was a chance for them all to nurture their faith, to be nourished, to be fed, and to be restored and refreshed for the important work that they do,” Helen said.
“It was a software upgrade for my soul,” said Giselle Beshara, a parish secretary at Holy Innocents’ parish in Croydon, who attended the retreat.
As a sole parent raising four children, the chance to take a break from the busyness of life as she approaches Christmas couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It can be challenging working in a parish, as we are on the frontline. This day felt like the church was telling us that we are important and that we are appreciated. I felt seen,” she said.
Archdiocesan Chancellor Chris Meney believes parish staff are fundamental to an understanding of the church.
“It’s hard to imagine the church in Australia without all those wonderful parish workers that we have,” he said.
“And this signals to them that they are valued. When people feel that they’re valued, then they will always go that extra mile to help people in need.”
The retreat was based on the scriptural account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, with short talks on the encounter with Jesus, on God’s mercy, and on our response which is to witness to others in the world.
“It was very well thought out and planned. It was a welcome opportunity to take pause and receive spiritual nourishment,” Giselle said.
“I loved Sr Anastasia Reeves OP’s reflection about Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
“When the Samaritan woman discovers who Christ is, she puts down her water jar and leaves in haste to tell everybody.
“That jar itself was her daily chore—her duty. For us it was a reminder that sometimes, as workers, we have to put down our jar—our duty—and just evangelise.
“It’s not just about the menial tasks, but the greater calling.”
The Parish Renewal Team hopes to offer the event again next year.
“We want more and more parishes to send their staff for a retreat day so that they can be renewed. Our staff have a huge responsibility; they witness to the love and mercy of Jesus in in a way that perhaps no one else can, so it’s crucial we support them,” said Helen.