One of the big challenges for the Church in Christchurch diocese, and likely elsewhere in New Zealand too, is to revitalise the life of parishes from Monday to Saturday, says the Bishop of Christchurch.
Bishop Paul Martin, SM, gave a guest address at the annual meeting of St Michael’s parish, Remuera, Auckland, on August 12, at which he expressed this view and linked it to the call to mission and evangelisation.
“I really think we have lost the life in our Church between Monday and Saturday,” Bishop Martin said.
“Sunday Mass, as the Vatican Council says, is the source and summit of our faith lives. But, actually, it is not going to be enough to sustain people in their faith lives for rest of the time. And we have to find ways to provide support and opportunities for people, Mondays to Saturday, so that our parishes are alive places. That is a real challenge for us. If our places are only really used on Sunday, then somehow that’s not going to be enough
to sustain the generations that are coming through and hanging in there.”
In the proposed parish change plan for Christchurch city — going from 12 current parishes to five larger parishes — which would necessitate new or adapted churches, it is envisaged that pastoral centres will be built for each of the new parishes.
“We want to build a pastoral centre at each of them, which is designed for the Monday to Saturday part of life, with rooms, so it is not a hall for morning tea, but actually it has got rooms to be able to have groups meeting and a whole variety of things,” Bishop Martin said.
“I really want our parishes to be places that are alive from Monday to Saturday, where there is stuff going on.Where there are all sorts of groups gathering for the different things . . . Around faith formation and what are we doing for young mums, what are we doing for dads, what are we doing for youth?”
“I think we need to find conduits and ways of connecting people,” the bishop continued.
“That’s why I’d like for a parish to have a men’s group for guys in their 40s, where you say to them — look we have a group that meets once a month, come and join us, we have a bit of a chat and we’ll have a beer together. Or a young Mum’s group or a golden oldies group, or whatever it is, so that actually you have got a way of bringing people to the community and then, hopefully, leading them to a deeper sense of prayer and faith in the Eucharist and the importance of coming and joining us on Sunday.”
Bishop Martin spoke about leadership teams in parishes and the roles of parish priests and assistant priests as well as lay leadership. In this context, he also discussed his hopes for pastoral planning and reviewing, faith formation, resourcing and more.
He acknowledged the initiatives that have been undertaken already —Alpha courses, Fr James Mallon’s “divine renovation” of parishes, and people benefitting from Ablaze conferences and speakers.
“There’s some really good parishes who have done really good work in the past and they are still trying to do that now,” he said.
But overall, he senses a certain inertia.
“[W]e are still, I think, as a Catholic community, relatively content to gather for Mass on Sunday, and then do the odd thing otherwise. But I don’t think we have an urgency to actually go out and talk about Jesus Christ and what that means to us to people who haven’t heard it.”
“We are very hooked on Mass on Sunday,” he said.
“Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Mass on Sunday, I love Mass every day, I’m not saying people don’t go to Mass on Sunday. But sometimes we say to people who aren’t us — come to Mass. And that is sort of like going from zero to a hundred. And then they come to Mass and it is actually a bit boring. . . . . What is the experience of people if they come to us? So that is a different question.”
Bishop Martin acknowledged that Catholic schools are “really good place(s) of connection for people, but our problem is finding ways of connecting, not with the kids, but with their parents and the parish”.
“The gap is not with the children who are fundamentally having a positive experience of faith in the school — it is their parents who have lost the link with the wider faith community in terms of actively being present.
“I don’t think that’s particular to Christchurch.”
He floated a couple of ideas for reconnecting with such people and parents.
“I wonder if we said to every parent that came to sign up for a preference card for our school that was not an active member of our parish, we are really delighted you want to come to our school, it’s great, but as part of that, in order that you really understand what it is you are coming to, we want you to join the Alpha course.
What you do after it, that is up to you. Imagine if we did that and that was run in our parish, not in the school, but actually run in the parish?”
Another idea is visiting the homes of people whose children are at Catholic schools, but who don’t attend the parish. He acknowledged this would require formation and resourcing.
Bishop Martin spoke about the need for a “critical mass” being present in the new larger parishes.
“If you are a young family who are bringing your kids to Mass, and there aren’t many other young families there — that’s hard. That’s one of the reasons why I want to bring together bigger groups of people, so actually you will find people within that.”
Another goal for the bishop is helping people in parishes have an ongoing conversion of heart and growth in love of Jesus Christ.
“We have to keep asking ourselves in the faith community, how do we help grow our own love of Jesus Christ to help our young people and our parents to really do that? That’s hard. But it’s really important, because that’s not our way, we haven’t tended to talk like that very much as Catholic people. We have tended to focus more on sacramental life in the Church, which, as I say, is really important, it’s a wonderful grace and gift to us. But we also have to work on — how does that touch our hearts and the hearts of our young people and also our own hearts?”
Bishop Martin concluded by saying “I want to be the bishop of a diocese that is doing all that it can to reach out to people. That supports the people who are there, people-gathering, and being signs of God’s presence in the world. And I want us to constantly be trying to respond, to reflect on what we are doing, to look for the signs of the time, to be flexible [in] the changing world we are living in, while also being faithful to our call and tradition as Catholics”.
“Do we think about how we are at Mass?”
As a seminarian, Bishop Martin lived at St Michael’s parish and, as a deacon, he worked there. During this time, he said he had had many conversations with Msgr Brian Arahill about liturgy.
At the parish annual meeting, Bishop Martin also spoke about liturgy in parishes today.
“If a stranger came to our parish, what would that experience be like for them?” he asked. “Would anyone talk to them?”
“Are we joyful and do we look like we are glad to be here? Or are we thinking ‘coffee time in 10 minutes’?
“I have to say that one of the most uplifting experiences of my life as a priest in terms of the Church here in New Zealand is going to the cathedral here in Auckland. Every time I have ever been there for Mass, it is the most
wonderfully uplifting experience of a full church, good singing, good preaching, good music . . .it gives people a real sense of being together. I think it is a great blessing.
“But it is something to talk about among ourselves — do we think about how we are at Mass? You don’t have to be raising . . . hands and waving them around.
I’m not saying to anyone we have to go that way. But it does have to have a sense that we want to be here, that we will sing.”