04 Oct 2021
'Sniffing out' the presence of God in the world
The Southern Cross | October 2021
The 278 members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia have continued to break open the 16 questions related to how we can create a more missionary, Christ-centred Church in Australia at this time.
After the broad discussions of the first small group sessions on Monday, yesterday’s “spiritual conversations” moved to more specific questions, suggestions and even proposals.
Reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42), the small groups continued their discernment and reported back during the assembly’s livestreamed session this morning.
On the topic of conversion, Dr Helen Belcher told the assembly that her group had begun looking at concrete points around training and formation, small ecclesial communities (home/family groups), structural changes such as diocesan synods and parish pastoral councils, and lay preaching by men and women.
She said elements of the group’s prayer and discernment included the need to “come down from the mountain and live in the world” and to be “mindful of the optics – how we present and act”.
Carol Teodori-Blahut said her group heard the Spirit calling them to “name and respond to the darker side of our Church and society where racism, exclusion and injustice have caused trauma, woundedness and suffering”.
“Truth-telling around this part of our story is really important,” she said.
While the group has not identified any concrete actions yet, two themes emerging were a “yearning for a Church that celebrates and brings into respectful dialogue Indigenous peoples and others” and an urgent call to use “our privilege and our voice to influence society” and change structures leading to injustice and suffering.
Fr Peter Whitely told the assembly his group’s discernment on prayer sparked concerns that “too few young people in our schools have not yet been invited into a close relationship with Jesus”.
He said the group questioned how the Church could engage people to pray, particularly when people were feeling disconnected due to COVID.
Discussions included consideration of the many people who did not feel welcome in our communities: “Sometimes we are seen as too ‘clubby’ or too comfortable in what we do?”
Tackling the question of how the Church might better embrace the diverse liturgical traditions of Churches and immigrant communities, Dr Sr Maeve Heaney said her group reflected on the need to know and understand one another’s rites and celebrations through education in schools and in the formation of future leaders and clergy.
The aim, she said, was to remove a sense of superiority of any rite over another and, to facilitate this, the group suggested a national body or commission might be necessary.
Significantly, the group voted on two motions: to cease using the term immigrant communities and use language that reflects our inter-cultural reality; and to recommend that the prayer and liturgies of the second general assembly of the Plenary Council reflect the diversity of rites within the Church in Australia.