Stopping sacramental ‘freefall’ with Go Make Disciples plan

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP speaking at the Clergy Conference at Le Montage in Lilyfield. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Archbishop looks to renew church life across Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has encouraged clergy from across the city to make use of all the support made available through the Go Make Disciples archdiocesan mission plan.
Speaking at a clergy conference held in Lilyfield last Tuesday, the archbishop said that Go Make Disciples was necessary to address the many challenges faced by parishes and chaplaincies.

Reception of some sacraments “is in free-fall”, particularly marriage and confession, many congregations shrinking and ageing, while some parishes struggle to support paid staff and recruit volunteers, he said, trends only accelerated by the COVID pandemic.

“the sheer range and depth of practical ideas in this plan has few parallels”

Go Make Disciples was launched last December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe who is patron of the New Evangelisation, and will be brought to parishes and deaneries throughout this year.

Archbishop Fisher explained that the plan is unique in three major ways. “One, its sheer practicality, offering not just motherhood statements about an idealised parish, but facts about each parish and practical strategies,” he said.

“Secondly, the sheer range and depth of practical ideas in this plan has few parallels, and reflects the size, gifts and opportunities that make so much more possible for the Church of Sydney than for many dioceses.

Fr Gerard Kelly taking part in the discussion about challenges and opportunities experienced across the archdiocese. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“Thirdly, this plan does not put all the burden of implementation on the shoulders of priests alone: we have a very able team at the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation focussed wholeheartedly on backing you up and bringing existing and new parishioners on board, and a big range of resources in the plan.”

Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation Daniel Ang told The Catholic Weekly that it was a privilege to spend the day with the archdiocesan clergy to share the vision for the Church in Sydney outlined in the plan.

Mr Ang said it was also an opportunity to share resources and practical support available to the clergy and gain insights into the practical challenges that priests and deacons are already navigating and responding to in their communities.

“As we know, we are in an era of mission, sharing the Gospel with a society largely unfamiliar with the Christian story, sceptical of the goodness of the Church but marked all the same by an immense hunger for God,” Mr Ang said.

Go Make Disciples provides a map and tools to respond to that challenge, suggesting ‘new wine’ and also ‘new wineskins’ or ways to organise ourselves for this mission. It was a day to gather and look ahead with gratitude for the gifts we have been given here in Sydney and also to be frank about the challenges that lie ahead.

Some of the 200 priests that took part in the conference. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“Rather than ignoring underlying issues which impact on the ministry of so many of our ordained each and every day and those communities they serve, Go Make Disciples provides a clear scaffold for local communities to address those issues for the sake of the Gospel and for present and future generations to come.

“I sensed great excitement and hope about the future as well as a healthy realism too that we need to engage with our present circumstances, exercise leadership and creativity in a time when many are weighed with cynicism or tempted to be somnolent.”

Manager of the parish renewal team, Elizabeth Arblaster, said that her priority was to provide parishes with as much practical support as possible in carrying out their local plans for renewal.

“When a priest and his leadership team decide to take steps to strengthen the foundations of their parish life, my aim is to provide them with access to as many resources and as much support as they can to implement those changes,” she said.

Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation Daniel Ang and Parish Renewal Manager Elizabeth Arblaster. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“This accompaniment is our commitment, whether that’s assisting a parish to introduce a program to invite those who do not know Christ into an encounter with Him, helping them provide spiritual and intellectual formation for their parishioners, or providing other support as they implement one of many other initiatives in Go Make Disciples which can help our parishes be renewed as places of encounter with the living Christ.”

Bondi Catholic parish priest Fr Anthony Robbie said that when he called on the assistance of the parish renewal team in recent weeks, their advice was “practical, professional and really interesting and helpful”.

“Clergy in particular can get a bit blasé about these sorts of operations and think we’ve heard all of this before, but this wasn’t like that at all. I have to take my hat off to them and commend them.”

Administrator of St Peter’s parish, Surry Hills, Fr John Macdonald said that the Go Make Disciples presentation has helped inspire him in his own parish.

“I found it very reassuring that we are on song with the Archbishop’s vision in what we are trying to do,” Fr Macdonald said. “I thought it was congruent with the mantra of Pope Francis, that to be Catholic is to be a missionary and to be a Catholic parish is to be a missionary parish.”

What is Go Make Disciples?

Go Make Disciples is about the renewal of our parishes by placing the Great Commission of Jesus to “go and make disciples” at the heart of all we do. We want our communities to be places of deepening encounter with Jesus and widening outreach for Him.

Why are we implementing Go Make Disciples?

We are called to be faithful to our Lord who sent us to proclaim the Good News in word and deed.

How are we going to do this?

By focusing on strengthening five foundations of parish life by which people are called and formed as disciples: evangelisation, leadership, community, formation and worship. The ‘new wine’ of spiritual renewal also needs to be supported by the ‘new wineskins’; that is, structures which support the mission of our parishes.

Who is doing this?

All of our parishes, migrant chaplaincies and other Eucharistic communities are called to enter into this springtime of renewal, calling on the Holy Spirit to bring new life and inspiration to our communities, that we may be radiant witnesses to Jesus to the people of Sydney.

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