It’s a novel idea, but may need to be seriously considered
So far we’ve looked at ways of helping the shrinking Australian Catholic Church to rediscover its sense of the sacred in the liturgy, and faced some financial realities about its possible future.
But there are other ways we can rediscover exactly what it means to be a Catholic in this brave new world.
This means cultural changes – changes in how we live and how we evangelise. (We do still have to evangelise, even though our numbers are shrinking dramatically.) So when I asked people about this, they came up with lots of small ways to make a difference. Small is beautiful, and the future Church is going to be very small indeed, so it’s good to look at small solutions.
We’re probably going to be more dispersed than we thought, but that’s how leaven in the lump is supposed to act
The smallest Church unit is the family, but the second smallest is the parish. Some of our parishes are going to have to merge or be closed to allow all practicing Catholics access to a priest and the Sacraments.
But as the number of practicing Catholics shrinks through attrition, these bigger parishes may not be all that big after all. No one should fear getting lost in a mega-parish, and people should be encouraged to attend their local parish church as much as possible.
This will be hard for those of us who are used to being liturgical nomads. However, if you can join a parish and invest in it, you are more likely to stay and try to help build it up.
The parish is a spiritual reality as well as a physical one. One way of building up parishes again is the formation of house groups, in which practicing Catholics get together in small groups within the parish to get to know each other, and to study the faith together.
Our future smaller parish communities will also make it easier for the parish and parish priest to carry out sacramental preparation for local children (rather than school-based sacramental programs).
There is a wealth of wonderful programs available out there also – international and home-grown – for genuine, uncompromising adult faith formation. There are good books, podcasts, and websites that can provide material for years of formation. Australia’s very own Gerard O’Shea is a good place to start if you’re uncertain.
We need excellent catechesis for the ‘reverts’ – those people who in later life decide to renew their relationship with the Church – as well as adult converts.
Our future practicing communities will be very small, but the people in them will really want to be there. They’re already building up Adoration, support groups, and catechetical networks. The Church in Australia needs to identify these and invest in them if it wants a future beyond 2049.
We’re probably going to be more dispersed than we thought, but that’s how leaven in the lump is supposed to act. Now is the time to begin building up a cohesive culture and identity, or we will vanish.