Cheryl working for parish renewal

Cheryl Surrey

The Divine Renovation framework for parish renewal is underway in several parishes in New Zealand, and Cheryl Surrey is inviting others to embark on this journey. 

Mrs Surrey, from Pukekohe, has been appointed as Divine Renovation’s New Zealand Relationship Guide. New Zealand is one of some 75 countries in which the ministry is operating, guiding parishes from “maintenance to mission”. 

Divine Renovation relies on three “keys” – the primacy of evangelisation, the best of leadership, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Mrs Surrey’s work includes accompanying and offering regular support to priests and parishes, promoting and building the profile of this ministry in New Zealand, and actively pursuing opportunities to invite parishes to adopt Divine Renovation principles in order to connect, inspire and equip parishes on their journey of renewal. 

A mother of three children aged 10, 6 and 4, she brings broad experience in working and studying in Catholic settings to the role. Raised in Scotland, she did tertiary studies at St Mary’s University in London, gaining a bachelor’s degree in theology and a masters in pastoral theology. After working with orphans in Uganda and attending World Youth Days in Germany and Australia – the latter where she met her husband Cameron – she, and her husband, a Kiwi, settled in New Zealand.  

With her husband, she helped run the Catholic Discipleship College for four years, and later took up the role of parish secretary and joined the Pukekoke parish council. She also worked as vocations coordinator in Auckland diocese. In her home parish, she saw that running an Alpha Course – a key component of the evangelisation aspect of Divine Renovation – had been on the agenda, but had not progressed.  

“So I thought – why don’t we just start it?” she said.  

“When it came up, I thought, all right, we don’t really have anything else happening, in terms of a tool for evangelisation, we don’t have an intentional life in the parish that is bringing new people in and helping them to go deeper. When it came up, it was kind of a no-brainer for me.” 

Mrs Surrey did the training and Alpha started in Pukekohe. How Alpha works was succinctly summarised by Bishop Michael Gielen in a webinar last year – “It says, put a meal on, get people to provide it, extend hospitality, then put on a video that has been honed and chiselled for 30 years, then get together in groups”.  

Mrs Surrey said that “doing it was really incredible. I was really surprised at the transformation we started to see early on with regular people in the parish”. 

“In a really short space of time, I was seeing how Alpha was fostering really beautiful relationships between people. I was seeing vulnerability – people being able to share and talk openly and honestly about their struggles or their questions or their family backgrounds, all sorts of things.”  

Mrs Surrey said that she was surprised and humbled by it. In her younger days, she had been sceptical about Alpha, thinking it wasn’t really for Catholics.  

“When I was in London, my best friend worked for Alpha, we were both Catholic, and I had a very negative attitude towards it,” she said. Alpha, which started in the Church of England, has been adapted for use in the Catholic Church. 

Mrs Surrey, who has been in her current role since January, said that Pukekohe didn’t have to go it alone – people from the parish worked with Meadowbank parish in Auckland to get Alpha up and running. This involved, among other things, training leaders and identifying people’s gifts and talents that could be used in extending hospitality. 

“Hospitality is fundamental,” Mrs Surrey said. “Building relationships is crucial.”  

She estimates that about 20 parishes in New Zealand have embarked on the Divine Renovation journey. Some are further ahead than others, she added, citing Waimakariri parish in Christchurch diocese and Taupo parish in Hamilton diocese as good examples of where Divine Renovation has really taken off, and the fruits of parish renewal can clearly be seen. 

“Divine Renovation is offering a solution, and it is not the only solution to parish renewal, but it is a pretty good model,” she said. 

Mrs Surrey’s role involves networking with New Zealand parishes and working with priests. This can involve helping priests gauge where their parish is at and what trajectory it is on. 

“We want parishes to come alive – so many priests are struggling with where they are at. They are overburdened, they are overwhelmed, so it is finding the priests who are thirsty to go deeper to transform their parish to be more missional; priests who really have a vision for what their parish might look like, but don’t know how to make it happen.  

“There are so many different ways in which we can help priests, but also help the parish, because it is not just about the priest, it is about helping him choose faithful, available, and teachable parish members with whom he can lead out a team  – with people who will support him in the parish vision, but who will also challenge him in the right ways, and complement his particular gifts and strengths of ministry.”  

She had a lot more to say about evangelisation work – people are not projects; relationships and trust have to be built – and the need to be reliant upon the Holy Spirit to animate and guide people in parish renewal.   

She added that Divine Renovation has regular events, including online webinars, in-person events, podcasts, and books. For more information, visit or email [email protected] 

Upcoming events: 

Leading Through the Power of the Holy Spirit with Bishop Michael Gielen 

Wednesday, May 25 at 1pm – Priests Only Event 


Sharing the Journey – Auckland Diocese Event 

Wednesday, July 13 at 6.30pm (Dinner included) Email: [email protected] 


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